Release Date: Jul 22, 2017
Have you ever thought about the impact coffee waste has on the environment? Could it be redirected? Once again action is taking place in the coffee capital of the world; Melbourne, Australia. Vaughan speaks with Ninna Larsen and Kaitlin Reid of REGROUND to find out more…
Vaughan: Tell us what REGROUND does.
Kaitlin: Reground is a waste removal company with a difference. Our mission is to turn waste into a resource starting with coffee and starting in Melbourne. We collect used ground coffee from cafes, roasteries and offices and deliver it to a sustainable end use – usually home gardeners or community gardens. We provide our customers the opportunity to connect with the community on a deeper level, sending their coffee back to where it belongs; in the ground adding nutrition to the soil and growing beautiful food!
Vaughan: If cafes are not using REGROUND, what usually happens to ground coffee?
Kaitlin: Most cafes, roasteries, offices and homes in Australia are throwing their ground coffee into the general waste bin and therefore into landfill. Here it converts to methane gas which is 20-40 times more potent than carbon pollution from cars, it really is the worst thing to end in landfill because it pollutes our atmosphere so much. Cafe’s and Roasteries, in Melbourne especially, focus so much on the quality, sustainable and ethical nature of their coffee, from how it’s grown, where it’s sourced to how it’s roasted and presents in a cup. There hasn’t been a good option to continue the quality focus, until now. When most cafe’s hear about Reground it just makes sense to them you know? People say ‘I had that idea’ or ‘I wanted to do that’, so it really resonates and starts to change the behaviour that way – enabling them to question their current behaviour of throwing it in the bin, which just doesn’t make sense!
Vaughan: Are you approaching cafes or are cafes starting to approach you? What’s the conversation like? Which cafes are already on board this initiative?
Kaitlin: We have been very lucky, Regrounds first clients, Padre and Seven Seeds, are influential in the Melbourne cafe scene, having such a simple concept that people understand and resonate with, as well as these first movers in the coffee industry, has put us in the position where cafes approach us. It won’t be this way forever as we expand but until this point, usually a cafe contacts us. If they are in the area we currently work in we will set up a time to take them through not only the service but why we exist – this conversation often covers values, other sustainable practices and behaviour, other waste streams as well as their ground coffee. There is often a conversation about the fact that there is a fee – some people assume that it will be free but they don’t consider that they currently pay for their waste and quickly see this as a normal part of their business. We take them through the community aspect and the fact that this is a free resource for those in need of such a great addition to their garden. Reground values transparency highly, this is important to our cafe’s and roasteries as they really do care where their coffee is going, we are able to tell them how much they diverted, who it went to and how much methane gas it avoided producing which is truly valuable to them. We now have 30 cafe’s and roasteries using Reground to divert their ground coffee from landfill. This is an exciting time for us as we recently crowdfunded our own van so have so much more capacity to grow and increase our impact with the help of the community around us. Check out our website for a list of places you can find a coffee that is being disposed of sustainably.
Vaughan: Can you introduce a couple of end users? Do you work with them closely?
Kaitlin: Ninna and myself have been picking up coffee and delivering it to end users for the past 10 months and Ninna herself with some great helpers before that, so we have a very personal relationship with everyone who accepts a coffee delivery from Reground. As Ninna mentions, educating people on the benefits of coffee was initially a big job, but now word of mouth of the valuable resource that it is, and free service we provide – delivering over one tonne of coffee to your garden – is really spreading and we are being contacted by avid gardeners all around Melbourne. Our end users range from the individual, potentially retiree, constantly innovating ways to resourcefully organically tend to his garden – Stuart comes to mind; he makes his own charcoal, has pulled asparagus out of the ground for me to try fresh, cut apricots straight from the tree which were the juiciest I have ever had, given us bags of lemons and giant zucchinis – he is a wealth of knowledge and has endless interesting points to bring to our conversation while we are shoveling coffee into his yard. On the other end of the spectrum, West Brunswick Community Garden, is a beautiful community of volunteers with thriving plots of vegetables, herbs and flowers – there is always something new growing. Richard, head composter and volunteer, is always overseeing the thriving compost which is added to by people in the neighbourhood who have no space for compost in their apartments and are welcome to bring their organic waste. We overhear Richard singing Regrounds praises because he knows the beauty of the coffee, an accelerator in a compost, but we are also singing Richards and the community gardens praises – it is the interactions with these people that make us just so lucky to have our job and that make Reground what it is.
Vaughan: How do you educate the coffee community in Australia? Is there already a real awareness about this? Or is the job just beginning?
Ninna: Education is a key element in the success of Reground. When Reground started in late 2014 there was little awareness in the coffee community around why ground coffee shouldn’t end in landfill and what good it does in the garden. I spent a lot of time just chatting to baristas, managers, cafe owners on the ‘why’ and also supporting the face-to-face communication with similar – more digestible – information on social media. Slowly it’s become easier to educate people on why they shouldn’t be throwing their coffee grounds in the general waste bin – and the overall focus in the media supports what we do. More people are now looking to do better with their waste – however, we still have a long way to go to get the whole industry engaged.
Vaughan: How did you both get into coffee? And where did the idea come from?
Ninna: I am from Denmark and the standard when it comes to applied sustainable practises are very different there to Australia – very high and considered. From early age I was curious as to where the world was headed and although studying ‘Design, Culture and Economics” and loving it, I always knew I could only advocate for design that was less geared towards consumption but more towards services and impact. Just before coming to Melbourne I got a job communicating sustainability through art at The Danish Cultural Institute and I really found a space I cared for. When I then travelled to Australia I got a job at Seven Seeds – just like any other traveller do, I fell into the hospitality industry. I worked there and then moved on to work at The Brunswick East Project – to then becoming really bored. I started looking at ways I could help impact the world in a positive way and observing my own behaviour of throwing ground coffee into the general waste bin at work was really all it took for me to start looking into solutions. That’s how Reground came to be – I bought a bin and started trialling the service at Easty. I had developed a great network of friends in the industry – who helped build Reground from day one – I asked my community of colleagues and customers at the cafe for their opinion on the name, the visual identity and even pricing – everything that Reground is today is built with the industry and its people in mind. The Brunswick East Project and Seven Seeds were my first clients – so my professional network really helped in the beginning – and still does to this day.
Vaughan: Do similar movements happen overseas that you have learned from? Or have you heard of anything else that has inspired you in the coffee industry regarding the environment and sustainability?
Ninna: I am not familiar with other initiatives overseas – each country is different as to how they dispose of waste. I guess BioBean in the UK is what comes closest – but they are more the end user of the grounds rather than the distributor. Environmental awareness and sustainability hasn’t been the core of the coffee industry, the focus has been on the technology and outcome. Equipment has to be of top quality in relation to performance and usability, but we still have a long way to go in rethinking how buildings, machines and the behaviour of the customers can be designed to become more environmentally friendly – so that you can both enjoy a beautiful, well-made cup of coffee and feel good about it too.
Vaughan: I heard you crowd funded enough money to buy your own truck! Congratulations! It’s definitely a testament to what you’re doing and the coffee lovers down under.
Ninna: Thanks! We are very lucky to have a community of believers around us. Many coffee drinkers and coffee professionals are very keen to see and support positive change and although it was a very hard job crowdfunding it was worth it. We are needed and we won’t let our community down.
Vaughan: What does the future hold for REGROUND?
Ninna: The future looks bright for Reground. Reground will continue to divert organic waste out of landfill. We pick up ground coffee and also chaff (the husk of the coffee bean) from roasteries, so together with our cafe and roastery partners we are responsible for rescuing tonnes of organic waste. Reground is founded on the belief that businesses should and can take responsibility for their impact on our people and planet. We work towards educating other businesses and future business operators on how we don’t need to focus on benefitting shareholders, but rather focus on impact and how we can help create longterm outcomes either for people or the planet. Essentially we are redefining the concept of business success. We want to strengthen our communication in the general public, push the government to establish more compost facilities in Victoria and around Australia and really we want to eradicate landfills. Long term we are all over Australia and have a huge positive environmental impact by reduce organic waste in landfill as well as getting all individuals to implement small scale solution in their own lives – like having a home compost.
Interview by Vaughan (@vja)