When Scott Kennedy and Fergus Moore were working in coffee shops to pay their way through university, they couldn’t believe the huge amount of food waste they witnessed — particularly when it came to coffee grounds.
Coffee is the world’s second-most traded commodity, according to the pair, with annual sales of over £9 billion in the UK alone.
The UK coffee industry produces an estimated 500,000 tonnes of used coffee grounds every year. And of these, 90% end up in landfills or are incinerated, costing the industry almost £80 million annually.
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Motivated by the need to limit this waste, the Scottish entrepreneurs launched Glasgow-based startup Revive Eco.
The company collects used coffee grounds from cafes, restaurants, and offices, then processes the used grounds at their recycling plant in Scotland, where they extract “high-value biochemicals” to create a range of products.
“We set up Revive with the vision of diverting all coffee grounds in Scotland from going to waste,” said Moore. “Circular business practices are our true north. It makes good business sense as well as being beneficial for the planet.”
Kennedy and Moore first launched their idea while studying business at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. Then, after graduating, they decided to “take the leap” and found Revive Eco.
The startup has already been generating international recognition. They’re representing Scotland and Northern Ireland in the Chivas Venture competition, where they are competing with 19 other global companies for a share of a £776,000 funding pot.
The winners will be announced in Amsterdam in May, following an online public vote.
The startup has already been supported with a £235,000 funding grant from the Zero Waste Scotland agency. This funding has enabled Revive Eco to run a year-long project, allowing them to finalise their process for producing high-value biochemicals from used coffee grounds — and diverting thousands of tonnes of coffee waste from going to landfills.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, announcing the funding in November, said it was great to see projects like Revive Eco, alongside the other funding winners, “embracing our circular economy and getting maximum value from resources.”
She said the funding would help “these businesses re-use and repurpose products which will benefit communities by creating jobs and reducing emissions.”
But mostly excitingly, the pair believe the oils they extract from the used coffee grounds could potentially replace palm oil — the production of which is driving widespread deforestation. According to Moore, the oils in coffee could have a wide range of uses across lots of different industries — including cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, food and drink, and household products, among others.
“We’re developing a process to extract and purify these oils,” he told BBC Radio’sGood Morning Scotland programme. “The most exciting part for us is that they have all the same components as palm.”
That would be a very significant step that would be celebrated by environmental activists around the word.
Palm oil is a key ingredient in loads of items that we consider to be everyday essentials, including food products like bread, ice cream, crisps, and in most hygiene products, like soap and shampoo.
Yet, according to Greenpeace UK, palm oil is driving huge levels of deforestation. The environmental ground says that, in Indonesia’s rainforest, an area the size of a football pitch is torn down every 25 seconds in order to keep up with the global demand for palm oil.
“These rainforests are hotspots for biodiversity, and vital for regulating the Earth’s climate,” said Greenpeace UK’s Fiona Nicholls.
This deforestation is also having a devastating impact on the animals that live in the rainforests. According to Greenpeace, 25 orangutans are killed every day — and the number of Bornean orangutans was more than halved between 1999 and 2015.
Moore said: “It’s really exciting for us that we could potentially provide a local and more sustainable alternative to all the industries that are currently using palm oil.”