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Wake up and smell the fungi: mushrooms spring from waste coffee grounds

Mushrooms are cultivated in used coffee grounds in unused office space in Exeter. Photo: GroCycle

Social enterprise GroCycle specialises in growing gourmet oyster mushrooms from a surprising yet plentiful waste stream – used coffee grounds.

It is estimated that more than 1.6 billion cups of coffee are drunk each day worldwide, and around 80 million in the UK alone.

“A cup of coffee is at the end of a process where less than 1 per cent of the coffee plant is used,” explained Fungi Futures CIC director Adam Sayner.

“Coffee drinkers only value the beans, and after the brewing process most of the coffee grounds up in landfill. This is a problem that’s likely to increase as the UK’s booming coffee industry already has more than 15,000 shops and is set to keep on growing. 

“Taking this waste and turning it into local food is a simple solution and a huge opportunity. Not only are there sustainability benefits, but it can change people’s attitudes to waste and create wider social opportunities in the process.”

In October last year, the GroCycle Urban Mushroom Farm opened in Exeter; recycling the city’s coffee waste into mushrooms. The farm is set in unused office space in the heart of Exeter and can process more than 30 tons of coffee waste into almost eight tons of mushrooms, taking centre stage at a school education program too. 

The social enterprise also make the UK’s first gourmet mushroom grow kit from recycled coffee grounds, bringing the little-understood process into people’s homes.

The coffee ground Mushrooms are now available to grow at home too. Photo: GroCycle

“Our home grown mushroom spawn (seed) uses another waste stream – spent brewery waste,” said Sayner.

“Each week we pick up the spent grain and hops from a local micro-brewery and use it as the food source for the production of the spawn which eventually gets added to the coffee. 

Finally, the waste product from the production of the mushrooms is a nutrient-rich coffee-based compost, which can be returned to the ground. We are currently investigating marketing opportunities to turn our own waste stream into a commercial compost or biofuel. A circular approach is at the heart of what we do, we aim to turn other businesses’ waste into a resource. This way we turn waste streams into food, fuel and soil, a true growing cycle.” 

By Lucy

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