Vietnamese sustainable manufacturer AirXCoffee has replaced single-use plastics with a material abundant: coffee grounds. GCR explores how.
With single-use plastics on a global downtrend and Vietnam currently the world’s second largest producer of coffee, AirXCoffee saw an opportunity.
Through mixing locally sourced coffee grounds with recycled materials such as plastic, starch, cellulose, wood, natural resins, waxes, and oils, the company realised they were able to create one of the world’s first coffee-ground face masks.
Thanh Le, Founder of AirXCoffee, says this is where the brand first shot to fame. “We saw that many people in Vietnam were using single-use masks at the start of the pandemic. Since Vietnam is already very polluted, we wanted to fix this,” Le tells Global Coffee Report.
To create the coffee-based material, AirXCoffee dries spent coffee grounds at low humidity and crushes them into small particles. The recycled materials are also pre-crushed before being mixed with the grounds and melted together at a high temperature. The product is then left to harden and broken into small bullet shaped pieces. The first mask prototype uses a formula of recycled materials, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic and coffee grounds.
Working around the clock, AirXCoffee’s research team were able to replicate the formula and successfully bring it to market in early 2020.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to think how to market [the masks] properly. When we first made them, the product sold itself and then through word of mouth, our business continued to grow,” says Le.
AirXCoffee now sells its coffee masks to more than 50 countries worldwide, with a list of international recognised sponsors such as Starbucks, Mercedes, and Dekra.
From here, AirXCoffee has announced a new Bio Composite line consisting of household products such as chairs, toiletries, cutleries, and mugs that will be made using a similar formula to the face masks.
Due to the different density and hardness of the products, Le says the new Bio Composite products will utilise recycled Polyphenylene plastic as one of the key materials in addition to 40 per cent coffee grounds
To create the Bio Composite line at a faster rate, AirXCoffee uses empty product moulds filled with coffee grounds that are set to harden. Le says providing the ground material to factories in moulds or enlisting equipment manufacturers to build the moulds, has increased the scalability and sustainability of the Bio Composite line.
“It is ecologically friendly because it stops plastics ending up in landfill or being burned in factories and releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide,” Le says. “It also provides our partners with a green solution.”
To Le, this line is also about helping AirXCoffee’s long list of supporters from international partners such as Nestlé to local vendors in Vietnam.
The production of coffee-based materials has the potential to create jobs for Vietnamese communities, from collecting the coffee grounds to processing of the material and building the final product.
“We want to help our partners reduce costs by offering them a competitively priced material to plastic,” Le says. “For all customers, in Vietnam and around the world, we provide a unique, eco-friendly product. By turning these coffee grounds into a usable product, it has a second life, and will contribute to the growth of the Vietnamese coffee industry.”
Le believes the main barrier preventing sustainable practices is habit. Through creating products, which are easy for the customers to access, he hopes consumers will be motivated to act sustainably.
AirXCoffee is expected to start producing the Bio Composite line in June 2021.
For more information, visit www.airxcoffee.com/