Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Little Compost with that Latte?

Did you know that Starbucks has a corporate policy of making its used coffee grounds available free as a soil amendment or composting ingredient?

For months I've been working up to introducing myself to our neighborhood Starbucks and starting regular pickups of grounds for my compost pile. A fellow gardener here in the District of Columbia is a prolific composter and coffee grounds have become one of his primary ingredients. He attached a trailer to his bicycle and pedals around town, stopping at various Starbucks stores and harvesting their used grounds.

I don't plan on using coffee grounds quite to that extent. But coffee grounds do contain a fair amount of nitrogen and therefore are considered--along with grass clippings and other kitchen scraps--a "green" material to be mixed with "browns" such as leaves and newspaper in the compost pile. Nitrogen feeds the bacteria that heat up the pile and ignite the decomposition process.

So this week I finally introduced myself to the local Starbucks. The manager on duty looked surprised when I told her what I wanted. She'd never heard of the Starbucks coffee grounds policy, and apparently no one had ever asked for the used grounds at that particular store before. Nevertheless, she took my contact information and promised to have a bag of grounds ready for me to pick up later in the week.

Imagine my chagrin when I entered the store at the appointed hour and found a different manager on duty. No grounds had been saved for me. I was very disappointed. But then this particular manager--Vanessa is her name--explained that she had seen my note and knew all about composting with coffee grounds. She had moved from a Starbucks location in California where they are quite used to giving away their used grounds to gardeners. "We even have tags that we put on the bags explaining how to compost with the coffee grounds," she explained.

Even though the grounds had not been saved for me as promised, Vanessa would not let me walk away empty-handed. "We have some bags of expired beans," she said cheerily. "Would you like me to grind them up for you?"

You bet I would. So I waited while Vanessa ran 15 pounds of coffee beans through the grinder and bagged them for me. Here you see them waiting to be mixed into the compost pile I started last fall.

Coffee grounds are slightly acidic but entirely organic matter, making them a suitable soil amendment all on their own. Once the micro-organisms start feeding on them, the nitrogen contained in the grounds is slowly released to feed your garden plants. Coffee grounds also contain potassium, calcium and magnesium. Both Starbucks and Sunset magazine have run tests on coffee grounds to identify specific nutrients.

Unless it's decaf, I don't drink coffee anymore. But I can easily see these free coffee grounds becoming addictive. Thanks, Vanessa. And thanks, Starbucks, for thinking of us composters.

12 comments:

Julia said...

And if you need extra grounds, let me know. I have quite a bit of my own leftover grounds in my compost bin. I'm worried I might throw off the ratio of green to brown.

Ed Bruske said...

Julia, the most common problem people have with composting is getting the materials too wet or adding too much "green." It's very easy to fix. Just add some more "brown" stuff: old leaves, shredded newspaper, cardboard, etc.

them apples said...

I've been picking coffee grounds up from Starbucks for a while now. At a lot of stores, they bag them up and leave them in a big basket right by the counter.

I really load up when I'm with the kids and have a buggy with a big shopping basket slung underneath...

I often put coffee grounds straight onto the ground around the stalks of tender vegetables and plants - they seem to deter the slugs and snails, or at the least, they form a barrier that appears to be impenetrable to our pesky friends.

The single thing to remember with any compost heap is 'keep going'. If you get the ratios wrong, it's easy to fix. Nothing is beyond repair. After all, it's all going to rot in some way or other in the end.

Ruth Ferguson said...

Thanks for this post because I thought they were only good for sprinkling around your roses. Did not think about adding to a compost pile, which I have not started yet. Have to pick a location but I will ask for coffee beans now since it will help heat things up for me.

De in D.C. said...

I've gotten grounds from a couple suburban NoVA locations and they don't save them unless someone specifically asks. I always stop in first thing in the morning and promise to be back later in the day and get a big double-bagged garbage bag full of grounds and filters. I think you might have better luck if you do daily pickups so that the staff doesn't have to remember to pass on the news to the team coming in the next day.

Ed Bruske said...

De,glad to hear about another coffee ground composter in our area. I'm not sure how this will work out with my particular store. I got the impression Vanessa was planning to start saving grounds and just keep some on hand for the times people ask for them. Otherwise they will go in the trash.

Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener said...

When I was working in an office building, I use to take home all the coffee grounds from the office. My coworkers knew my love of composting so they gamely put the coffee grounds in the bag I left.

Now I get the "shaft" (the peels?) from a local coffee roaster (Central Coffee Roaster in Rapphannock co). Yes it is acidic, so, beside composting, it's great for citrus, pelargonium, azalea, blueberries & potatoes (just use them as much or mix in the soil)

baristaonduty said...

I Worked For Starbucks in 04, I Used To Use The Grounds For My Organic Herb Garden.I Had Hoped To Implement A Composting Division Within Starbucks, Since I'm A Farmer By Blood.I Now Roast My Own Beans, And Have Implemented On Small Scale,On My Farm, Mixes Great With Cow, Chicken, Horse, And Other Farm Animal, As Well As Wood Chip Etc. Anyone Needing Info I'm Available.. Go Green Planet!!

Ed Bruske said...

Barista, go on with your bad self. Love to hear about the many different ways of composting. Thanks for offering your services.

Drewguy said...

What De in DC said -- I call in the morning to say I'd like to pick up at lunch or so. They usually have a full garbage bag for me. Apparently this store used to save them, but no one picked them up, so now it's by request. It varies from store to store.

BTW, can you use the unfiltered/used grounds the same? Does the brewing process leach out things that aren't so good for the compost?

Ed Bruske said...

Drew, good to know. I think the only think the compost misses with the used grounds is the caffeine. It's all organic. It will all compost fine. Just remember that coffee grounds are a bit on the acidic side. Don't go overboard with them. On the other hand, you could use them as an amendment directly around acid-loving plants such as azaleas and blueberries.

Drewguy said...

Hydrangeas too . . . the Nikko blue were oh so blue