We’re a nation of coffee lovers – many of us can’t face the morning without some form of caffeine. More than 16 million coffees are consumed on any given day around Australia, making coffee our top addiction over gambling and alcohol. But ever wonder what happens to all the wasted coffee grounds? Where do they go and what impact do they have on the environment?
Most coffee waste is sent to landfill, where it decomposes and over a period of time it starts to produce a greenhouse gas called methane. This gas has an impact on climate change over 20 times greater than that of carbon dioxide, making coffee landfill quite hazardous to the environment.
In Fremantle alone 300 tonnes of coffee waste is sent to landfill per year. It’s hard to gauge just how much waste goes to landfill Australia wide, but with nearly half of the population consuming a cup of coffee every day there is a great need to find more sustainable recycling solutions.
In Australia some small businesses have started to repurpose their coffee waste through compost. Coffee grounds are found to be natural fertilizers for acidic plants and when mixed with soil they assist in the breakdown of organic material.
Apart from using coffee waste as compost, entrepreneur Julian Mitchell discovered that coffee could also be used to grow a particular type of mushroom, the oyster mushroom. In looking at food and agriculture Mitchell wanted to find a new healthy eating source that had minimal environmental impacts.
So this year Mitchell launched a social enterprise startup called Life Cykel that repurposes coffee waste to grow local and gourmet oyster mushrooms. The startup grows its own mushrooms to sell to businesses and restaurants and also sells its very own ‘grow at home’ mushroom boxes to consumers Australia wide.
Mitchell said Life Cykel is more than just promoting healthy eating, it’s looking at the larger side of production within big farming industries.
“It shows the message of ‘what else can we do with waste?’ Because our business is based on a whole industry’s waste product, it’s ‘so what else is out there where we can find these opportunities?’ It’s something we hope to ignite in people in terms of thinking outside the box.”
The mushroom boxes are a good introduction for people who don’t have a garden and want to eat healthy and fresh food. The oyster mushrooms are also a very visual food that grow on an exponential curve and spill out of the box to blossom.
Life Cykel uses delivery startup Sendle to transport the mushroom boxes from warehouses in Fremantle to consumers around the country. Sendle is one of Australia’s first door-to-door carbon neutral delivery services that is committed to building a sustainable transport model. Both Sendle and Life Cykel are aligned by their focus on creating environmentally friendly startups.
For consumers mushroom boxes retail for $30, which includes two large and two small harvests, that harvest within 10 to 14 days.
“One of the big motivations is improving people’s health and connecting them back to growing their own food in some capacity. And this is really the simplest way to do that with our mushroom box,” said Mitchell.
To grow the mushrooms Life Cykel repurposes coffee waste from local coffee stores. Mitchell said it’s all about building a relationship with local stores in Fremantle and educating people on the benefits and applications of coffee waste.
The coffee waste is processed within a two to three day period and from there it sits in a warm and dark incubation room where the mushroom roots eat up the coffee and colonise. From there the mushrooms move to the fruiting room and over a two week period they start to bloom.
The art of growing mushrooms is usually quite complicated and hard to master as many conditions like humidity and climate need to be monitored at all times. Life Cykel uses low cost and high tech network sensors along with humidifiers and CO2 and humidity monitors that are all connected wirelessly, enabling Mitchell and his team to access the farms conditions through their phones and computers in real time.
“That is where the future of food and agriculture is moving in terms of being able to look at a lot more data points on your crops and being able to access it remotely. Extra data gives you extra ability to see how you can improve,” explained Mitchell.
The whole process, from collecting coffee to harvesting mushrooms, takes 25 days, which is all thanks to the current forms of technology that allow farmers to measure and monitor changes in environment.
“It’s all bound to the monitoring and keeping a really close eye on the conditions that the farmer 50 years ago and even today, is reliant on external factors or is impacted by external factors. So it’s just weather, drought, poor soil, climate change, all these things are eliminated,” said Mitchell.
Currently Life Cykel is on track to repurpose a tonne of coffee waste a month, which is a small dent in the recycling process that Mitchell hopes to grow as the popularity of the product increases.
Life Cykle launched its first product in March this year and to date has shipped over 1,100 mushroom boxes. Within the next 12 months Mitchell aims to open farms along the East Coast of Australia and expand into restaurants in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.
Life Cykel is also looking to team up with a national retailer to expand the product’s market reach.
Mitchell said there has also been some interest from other international markets and in late June the team are gearing up to explore the possibilities and opportunities in Singapore.
As another opportunity Mitchell said the startup will target schools to connect kids with sustainable ways of growing healthy food.
An initiative that most children partake in their schooling years is fundraisers, where they sell Caramello Koalas in return for raising money for charity. Life Cykel hopes to break the chain of selling unhealthy chocolate and instead will look to trade in Caramello Koalas for mushroom boxes, which is a win for charities and a win for healthy eating incentives.
Image: Ryan and Julian. Source: Supplied.