What do coffee grounds and roses have in common? Actually, coffee residue can be used as a fertilizer for flowers. So instead of throwing away coffee grounds, why not put it to good use?
"Our roses grow and bloom all year round,” says Olena Rubtsova, who works in the Mykola Hryshko National Botanical Garden and is a warden of its Rose Garden.
“They have to be fed three or four times a day. The flowers need a lot of nutrients, both organic and mineral, but the botanical garden does not always have sufficient funds to buy them," Rubtsova says.
But she has found a solution: the mown grass and leaves swept up on the pathways throughout the territory of the botanical garden can be used to feed the roses – the organic waste is put into a compost pit where it rots and turns flower fertilizer.
As it turns out, however, roses also get a kick from coffee.
Rubtsova once heard that some European coffee shops leave coffee grounds at their entrances with a sign reading "Take and feed to your houseplants." This example inspired the warden of the Rose Garden to go to a coffee stall in the botanical garden and ask for coffee leftovers.
The coffee shop was not going to lose anything, as it would throw used grounds in the trash otherwise. But this "trash" is still a valuable fertilizer for the roses.
The rose garden covers an area of three-and-a-half hectares, and there are around 7,000 rose bushes there, so the coffee waste from one coffee stall would not be enough. Rubtsova started looking for other potential suppliers. After accidentally coming across an article about a composter at the Zhytniy Market in Kyiv, installed with the assistance of the UNDP Accelerator Lab, she decided to contact the team. Would it be possible to find people willing to collect coffee residue for the botanical garden?
The lab is analysing these issues in Ukraine, conducting experiments such as the Community Safari, and integrating new green practices afterwards. The team was already working, in particular, on the issue of coffee waste.
Ukraine has the third highest number of new coffee shops opening in Europe. Given this, the issue of finding eco-friendly ways to sustain all this coffee-to-go consumption is important, since disposable cups left after coffee consumption make up a large proportion of municipal waste that is not recycled and ends up in landfills.
This summer, the Accelerator Lab, in collaboration with the NGO Zero Waste Lviv, launched an experiment with coffee shops in Lviv to make coffee consumption more responsible and less harmful to the environment. Meanwhile, in Kyiv the team managed to find people willing to supply coffee waste to the Rose Garden – the coffee shop Svit Kavy.
“The Rose Garden is an amazing place!” says Natalia Honcharova, the coffee shop manager.
“The people working there adore flowers, they take care of them with such gentleness! We want to be useful in some way, so we only happy to help!”
Svit Kavy stopped using plastic and switched to decomposable utensils a long time ago. However, the café owners had not thought about the disposal of their coffee grounds before.
"Sometimes our visitors ask to take it with them for home cosmetics, or as a fertilizer for houseplants. We had no idea that the botanical garden might need it as well,” Honcharova explains.
Roses do not need a lot of coffee residue, just a handful per bush. However, there is not enough of the fertilizer for all of the roses. Rubtsova says that one has to choose which bush will receive valuable nourishment. They feed the flowers that "look feeble."
"During the lockdown, we could not work for more than two months. All this time the roses were left almost unattended. That is why now we need to take care of those affected the most during the lockdown,” Rubtsova explains.
The employees of Svit Kavy say that collecting coffee leftovers for the botanical garden is not a problem. But storing and transporting them is another issue. The coffee shop produces three to four kilograms of coffee grounds every day. It has to be taken to the botanical garden at least twice a week, otherwise the coffee will be simply become covered with mould in the warehouse.
Vadym Granovsky, one of the owners of the company Coffee in Action and a UK champion in brewing coffee in a cezve, comments on the situation:
“In order for everyone to benefit from this exchange, we need to create a value chain. There should be some specific tools, at least temporary ones, to connect those who can benefit from coffee-based fertilizers with those who produce these fertilizers on a daily basis.”
As a sign of gratitude, Svit Kavy received a bouquet of freshly cut roses from the botanical garden. But when asked if the coffee shop would like to receive such bouquets every week, Honcharova shakes her head: "We prefer that the roses stay where they are growing, and pleasing our eyes. We don't need anything in return. If our brewed coffee could be used for such a good cause, we are honoured to be part of this initiative. After all, it’s good for karma. And that's enough."
Coffee waste might not only be useful not only for flowers and houseplants, and coffee expert Vadym Granovsky is currently researching this topic: “Coffee is very good for some types of mushrooms, for example,” he says. “It increases yields and even improves their taste. We are going to see what other crops could benefit from coffee waste."
The UNDP Accelerator Lab, in a meanwhile, is studying what other new eco-friendly practices Ukrainian businesses could adopt.
The cooperation sparked between Kyiv cafes and the botanical garden shows that Ukrainian enterprises are ready to seek and implement new sustainable solutions.
Do you know other uses for coffee grounds? Are you already working on similar initiatives and have some expertise in the issue? Then get in touch with email@example.com.
Text: Yulia Hudoshnyk
Translation: Kateryna Kravchenko, Editing: Euan Mcdonald, Tetyana Kononenko