What can we do with leftover coffee? Moldovan and Polish companies partner to upcycle spent coffee grounds

By Eva Lacinová, UNDP Innovation Specialist for Challenge Funds

July 30, 2022
Photo: Nicolae Macovețchi, Tucano Coffee

In Moldova’s capital city, Chisinau, about 2,000 to 3,000 kilograms of coffee waste end up in landfills each month, adding up to greenhouse gases emissions. A local coffee chain, Tucano Coffee, is joining forces with UNDP and with Polish technology company EcoBean to change the game and inject coffee waste into the circular economy process. 

EcoBean is a technology company with a mission to help reduce coffee waste and extends the coffee value chain, established as the spin-off from Warsaw University of Technology. Tucano Coffee is an international network of coffee shops with focus on corporate social responsibility. Tucano Coffee has been established in 2011 in the Republic of Moldova. 

Their initiative, a feasibility study that will map up the coffee waste collection practice in the Republic of Moldova – from  the legislation process and the identification of logistical partners and warehouses to the establishment of the coffee grounds utilization method and the selection of partners for scaling up – is financed under the Polish Challenge Fund, with funds from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland.  

From 2020, Polish Challenge Fund has supported in total 21 new initiatives, which brought new solutions and ideas like environmental chat bots, air quality monitoring or smart solutions for bees keeping in Belarus, Georgia, Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine. 

I interviewed the founders and CEOs of both companies, Marcin Kozlowski in EcoBean and Ruslan Cojocaru in Tucano Coffee, to find out more about their innovative path: 

  • Where did the idea to re-use coffee waste come from – and what is the story behind it? 
" I was aware of how much coffee waste was collected and thrown away in each of our coffee shop and wanted to find a solution to recycle it or use it in a way that would not harm the soil or the air. When we were invited to participate in the feasibility study, we thought it would be a great opportunity to join forces with EcoBean and UNDP, to expand our vision and spread awareness of bio waste and how it is handled here in Moldova."
Ruslan Cojocaru, CEO Tucano Coffee

Marcin: Our solution meets coffee industry needs and at the same time fulfills an environmental mission. Every business operation requires waste management activities which are cost- and time- consuming. We collect spent coffee grounds directly from the clients’ facilities and convert it into valuable bio-products such as cups for drinks, straws, briquettes, etc. It makes coffee business operations more eco-friendly and at the same time provides ecological alternatives to plastic products. 

  • What problem were you trying to solve? 

Ruslan: Waste management issues are quite serious in our country: People are aware of the problem and are eager to sort waste but the separate waste collection infrastructure is poorly developed and only a few facilities are available to the public. At Tucano, we are trying our best to sort waste and to minimize it but sometimes it ends up being mixed again with regular waste.  

We want to be a company that shows social responsibility and hope to show to our government that the waste management issue has to be solved and that it could start with us. 

Marcin: Our solution is a response to challenges such as a linear consumption model, growing environmental pollution and CO2 emissions through the use of fossil resources, distant and limited sources of biomass, suboptimal logistics, and EU legal regulations. 

  • How do you intend to roll out your joint project in Moldova?  

Marcin: We are introducing a circular economy in which the supplier of coffee waste is also a user and/or a distributor of products made from its own coffee grounds, so we extend the coffee value chain. 

"By processing coffee grounds into raw materials and eco-products, we reduce the carbon footprint – the implementation of the entire technological process could reduce CO2 footprint at least by 20% throughout the whole coffee value chain - and contribute to reducing the amount of waste generated by our partners." For us, coffee grounds are a new, local source of biomass that does not require increasing the area of arable land. We are introducing a circular model that enables reverse logistics and offers a highly efficient logistics process for collecting biomass from distributed sources."
Marcin Kozlowski, CEO EcoBean


  • Why did you decide to get involved through the Polish Challenge Fund? 

Marcin:  We are keen to share our technical know-how as well as essential experience with the logistics of spent coffee grounds transportation, upcycling, project management and implementation.  

The solution provided within the Polish Challenge Fund project and as a partnership with Tucano will be to conduct research for project partners in Moldova, designing a dedicated solution for our main partner, a proof of concept and eventually a feasibility study. The outcome of this project is a plan for scaling-up and industrializing the implementation of the solution in Moldova.  

  • And what are the next steps for your companies and the project? 

Ruslan: We would be very glad to find a partner for the long term that will collect our waste and help us recycle it, maybe create something that will go back to Tucano, like coffee cups or lids.  We have no way of doing it by ourselves, we need support and would be glad to give a second life to our waste. 

Marcin: We are constantly developing our activity and are considering further expansion in seven European countries. In terms of our cooperation with Tucano, we are of course open to the project’s continuation though it will largely depend on the interest and willingness of local Moldova coffee waste producing organizations.