By - Wednesday 6th March, 2013

Croydon’s coffee shops could lead the country in perking up our allotments as well as our mornings

Like many people, one drink that I look forward to each day is a cup of good filtered coffee, purchased from a local independent café. I’ve long been in the routine of a cup of delicious frothy cappuccino or two to get me through the morning. The familiar smells and noises of that eagerly anticipated drink being made to order is a Pavlov moment and I cannot wait to cup my hands around that beaker and take a sip.

There’s always one noise in the process that catches my ear more than the others and it is the sound of the previous drinks’ waste coffee grounds being banged out into a bin. It really offends my hearing  the way fingernails being scraped down a blackboard puts your teeth on edge. The sound of that puck of waste grounds being banged out has that effect on me!

Coffee grounds are an excellent soil fertiliser and throwing them away is a waste of a great resource

You see, as an allotment holder and keen gardener I appreciate how important good soil is to the whole process of successfully growing food, flowers and shrubs. An inch of soil can take between 500 and 1,000 years to form, so what is around at the moment is all that we have to work with and we cannot underestimate the need to feed the soil to keep it healthy and ensure that we grow plants successfully. Coffee grounds are an excellent soil fertiliser and throwing them away is a waste of a great resource. They are rich with minerals and vitamins, containing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and a desirable, slightly acidic pH level between 3 and 5 – and they make my allotment smell like a coffee shop!

This is why the sound of those waste grounds being bashed out into a bin to go to landfill frustrates this particular composter and recycler. When organic waste goes to landfill it just sits there and doesn’t break down into useful matter, as it needs air to break down aerobically. Because it’s trapped in landfill, anaerobic decomposition occurs and this produces methane – one of the greenhouse gases.

So I explained to my local independent café what I wanted to do and asked if they would keep their grounds for me and they were very keen to do so. I supplied the container and started gathering grounds twice a week from them which were mixed in with my compost at home or on the allotment or applied directly to the soil around plants. After a few months of this they became a little forgetful and the supply became erratic so I decided to end my collection of their grounds and accepted that I needed to start a relationship with another supplier… but whom?

You can drink as many filtered cups of coffee as you can at the Yard content in the knowledge that the waste for that drink is going back into the soil to do good

So, there’s a very good chance that if you have purchased a filter coffee from Matthews Yard from day one of their opening then the used grounds have been collected by me and are sprinkled and decomposing on my allotment. Poor Matthews Yard – before they had even opened and served a coffee I was on their case to ask if I could be the collector of their grounds. Their answer was an immediate ‘yes’ and they bag them up for me, store them, and then I collect them when I’m next passing. So you can drink as many filtered cups of coffee as you can at the Yard content in the knowledge that the waste for that drink will be put to good use and is going back in to the soil to do good.

Some of you may be familiar with this situation; that when you become a little bit obsessed with an idea you and other obsessives sharing the same passion seek each other out. Well, just recently I had the good fortune of being put in touch with and meeting the delightful Deborah Rothenberg who is a London Leader and in September 2012 set up the London branch of groundtogrounds. This is a project to “connect groups and businesses to divert ‘waste’ from landfills and return it to nutrient-rich earth”.

The grounds make an excellent exfoliant

Deborah shares the same passion that coffee grounds are too good to waste and has set off on her own mission to encourage Londoners to use their spent grounds on their own gardens and businesses to re-cycle theirs. Part of her mission involved visiting forty coffee shops in three months and she believes her actions will make a difference in the long term, a belief I share. She came to Croydon to meet me and I was delighted to be able to give her a tour taking in Matthews Yard and then at Deborah’s request to my allotment where she took some pictures of the coffee in the beds and took some soil samples to have analysed.

Much to Deborah’s amusement she went home that day with a kilogram bag of dried grounds for her plants and a puck of soap that contains coffee grounds – one of my side projects, as the grounds make an excellent exfoliant and if, like me, you get gardener’s rough hands then the grounds will leave them nice and smooth.

In May of this year I’ve booked myself on a day course with a company in Devon who specialise in growing mushrooms. You’ll never guess what waste product makes a wonderful medium for growing oyster mushrooms? Yes, coffee grounds and some shredded cardboard, which there’s always plenty of. I’ve tried the mushroom growing at home with mixed results so now I’m getting some expert advice on how to grow them and how to scale it up to supply level. So perhaps in the not-too-distant future you’ll be sipping on a coffee whilst eating a mushroom based meal grown on the waste of spent coffee grounds… and so the cycle goes on.

Just don’t get me started on used teabags.

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

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  • http://twitter.com/theboywilliams Paul Williams

    An excellent article Andrew….

  • http://twitter.com/ChristoPM Christo Matthews

    Very interesting. I had no idea!

  • http://twitter.com/98rosjon Jonny Rose

    Hey Andrew,

    Really interesting! Like Christo, I had no idea either about the environmental benefits of used coffee beans.

    I’m not a coffee drinker but I do drink copious amounts of green tea and breakfast teas of all sorts – are used teabags of any benefit to the soil?

  • blath8@googlemail.com

    Hi Andrew

    Brilliant article, thanks very much. Doesn’t everyone compost their used coffee grounds and tea bags then?? Ooo, I am surprised ….

    • http://twitter.com/greencroydon Andrew Dickinson

      Thanks Blath. Do you want some for your plot?

      • blath8@googlemail.com

        Hi Andy

        Thanks for the offer but have a friend with a small café so will see if I can use theirs first. I’m sure that you could leave some in the ‘office’ at the allotment site for others to take.


        • http://twitter.com/greencroydon Andrew Dickinson

          Nice one

  • http://www.facebook.com/gilesap Anne Giles

    I don’t drink filtered coffee. Matthews Yard do my espressos for me.

  • http://twitter.com/jpstacey J-P Stacey

    Great article. I’ve seen a few coffee shops doing this nowadays; I even spotted a chain doing it in London this weekend. They normally need approval in triplicate from head office to do that sort of thing.

    What’s best, I wonder: putting the grounds directly on the soil, or composting them with everything else? Maybe it depends on what you want them to do: fresh grounds on the soil apparently deter cats…..

    • http://twitter.com/greencroydon Andrew Dickinson

      Hi J-P. either use is ok. it really is a sprinkle around plants as too much and you get a crust on top which you can break up, but doesn’t look as nice as the dark crumbly soil.

  • http://twitter.com/greencroydon Andrew Dickinson

    Hi Jonny. All tea bags can be composted or I like to tear them open and throw it all on my allotment beds paper filter thing as well.Every teabag at home goes in the compost bin and yes I do collect used bags from my workplace.Just remember to remove the staples that a few herbal bags can have. Just don’t get me started on eggshells

  • http://twitter.com/Londongrounds Londongroundtoground

    The soap is wonderful Andrew. For those of you wondering about the best way to use the grounds, check out http://www.groundtoground.org. Shane Genziuk the owner of the blog has been growing food using coffee in different ways to amend the soil and is a great resource for passionate growers!

    • http://twitter.com/greencroydon Andrew Dickinson

      Thanks groundtoground for the tip and I’m chuffed the soap is good to use,

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