Impact Journalism Day: Oxford’s Coffee Run helps reuse coffee waste

April 10, 2017, 1:09 a.m.

Coffee: the life-blood of every student. In the UK, we drink approximately 55 million cups of coffee per day, while 80 percent of UK households buy instant coffee for in-home consumption. But did you know that on average, we use just 18 to 22 percent of the coffee bean when we make a cup of coffee?

The organic waste of coffee drinking is an environmental headache. It may keep us awake in lectures, but coffee waste ends up in landfills, contributing to greenhouse gases and further increasing the wasteful output of human activities.

The Coffee Run is a project run by students volunteering with the Oxford Hub and with collaboration from the Oxford Circular Collective. Its aim is to redistribute coffee waste from cafés to allotments, using the waste as fertilizer and compost and creating a circular economy, where waste production of one good (coffee) is reused in the production of another good (fruit and vegetables).

It works by combining two fads of the day: coffee addiction and a Deliveroo-style delivery system. On Coffee Run Fridays, volunteers pick up the coffee grounds at a coffee shop and then subsequently deliver them to an allotment over the weekend on their infamous Oxford bikes.

Coffee grounds have been proven to contain useful amounts of phosphorus and potassium as well as low levels of nitrogen. They work best with acid-loving plants including blueberries, avocados and tomatoes and have also been suggested to be effective in keeping slugs and snails away from plants. A recent study by Leeds Beckett University supports the project’s aims by concluding that waste coffee grounds “represent an under-utilized high-nutrient material with potential to be exploited.”

The idea for Coffee Run originally came from the Oxford Hub, conveniently located in the same building as the Turl Street Kitchen, a popular local café-restaurant. Since then it has evolved into a core team of students who have been working to make the idea a reality. So far, it has gathered interest from multiple enthusiastic cafés and allotments keen to join the waste-reducing initiative. Having conducted several test-runs and establishing a network of contacts and supporters, Coffee Run plans to officially launch at the beginning of Trinity term 2017.

As with every project, there have been issues along the way. Run by students, the Coffee Run had to scale back its initial intentions.

“When starting the project, we ambitiously aimed to pick up all the waste coffee grounds produced by local cafés,” said the leader of the project, Clarisse Pierre, an undergraduate at St Catherine’s College studying geography. “After doing some research, we realized that this would require daily trips, due to a lack of storage space in cafés and a need to keep things fresh.”

The group came up with the alternative idea of Coffee Run Fridays, where volunteers go to as many cafés as possible and collect waste just on the day, to deliver over the weekend.

While Coffee Run is yet to be fully fledged, it has been working hard to establish a support network for its launch. Multiple volunteers have already signed up after a launch event during Student Volunteering Week in Hilary term, and the project has also been featured in the Oxford Mail.

The Coffee Run is not the first project of this kind. Starbucks has a “Grounds for your Garden” program, where customers can pick up a free bag of used coffee grounds in some stores. Costa has since rolled out a similar campaign called “Grounds for Grounds.”

Yet getting students involved is important in targeting an important audience and educating future generations. Pierre got involved “to contribute to a project which is environmentally beneficial, socially valuable [and] economically sound” and inspire further involvement amongst environmentally conscious students.


A longer version of this article was written for The Oxford Student as part of Impact Journalism Day, an initiative spanning over 20 schools from the around the world that showcases college students’ work on social and environmental problems. To mark Impact Journalism Day, The Daily is featuring stories from other participating college and university newspapers.

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