Coffee grounds find second life

Julian Mitchell and Ryan Creed live and breathe the proverb “waste not, want not”. Earlier this year the former health professionals turned waste entrepreneurs from the Australian city of Perth started Life Cykel, a business dedicated to reducing coffee waste by using it to grow mushrooms. Mitchell says it was after reading mycologist Paul Stamet’s presentation “Six Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World” that he had a “lightbulb moment”. “[Stamet] talked about food production and mentioned the volume of coffee waste and its potential to be a good nutrient for fungi growth,” Mitchell says. “I did some research, read his books, conducted some trials, and found a business proposition that could work.” So Mitchell and Creed ran a crowd-funding campaign to start an urban mushroom farm, receiving more than US$20,000 in donations to make the idea a reality. “I never realised how much coffee is wasted,” Mitchell says. “Each year about 300 tonnes of coffee waste from Fremantle goes to landfill.” Mitchell and Creed visit cafés daily around Fremantle, a port city of about 25,000 people situated on the west coast of Australia, just 20 kilometres from the West Australian state capital, Perth, to collect leftover ground coffee. In preparation for their arrival, the coffee waste must be chilled at 4 degrees Celsius. Once collected, it’s taken to the urban farm – housed in three 12-metre shipping containers – and mixed with mushroom spores. “The mushrooms eat the coffee grounds. It’s about a three-week incubation period, 21 days’ formation, and six weeks later the oyster mushrooms are ready to consume,” Mitchell says. “Coffee is rich in nitrogen content, so as a soil it has a high nutrient value for the mushrooms to thrive. There’s also minimal water used, no electricity needed or pesticides applied, unlike other farmed produce.” As well as diverting the coffee waste from landfill, Life Cykel is dedicated to promoting healthier lifestyles through increased access to unprocessed, locally grown food. Mitchell says growing mushrooms is a combination of art and science. The reason his team can do it well is because the mushrooms are monitored in a controlled environment with the right airflow, sterility, hygiene and humidity. “We tried growing other varietals of mushrooms with the coffee grounds, but none of them worked as well, nor were as tasty as the oyster mushroom species,” Mitchell says. Life Cykel now produces 80 kilograms of mushrooms each week, and Mitchell anticipates this figure will exceed 100 kilograms come Christmas. Life Cykel has also run a crowd-funding campaign for urban mushroom farms in the three capital cities along Australia’s east coast – Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. It is also selling Mushroom Boxes for people to grow their own mushrooms at home using infused coffee grounds. “There’s no simple formula to reducing coffee waste, but I do think in the next five years we’ll start to see it become a viable product for people to use and recycle, not just us,” Mitchell says. GCR

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