Coffee is kind of a big deal here in the United States — the average American adult drinks around three cups a day, which adds up to some $40 billion each year, according to the National Coffee Association. That’s no small beans.
Globally, coffee production generates more than 23 million tons of waste per year — from the pulp of fresh coffee cherries through the packaging that brings the roasted beans to your favorite barista. For most people, used coffee grounds are the most visible example of this waste — what we throw out after making each fresh brew. While most of us don’t give a second thought to our spent grounds, these black, sodden remains of pulverized coffee seeds have great potential for finding new life as renewable resources.
With Earth Day reminding us that it’s time to get smarter about food waste, here are three ways businesses already are turning coffee waste into valuable resources:
Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. Investing just a single dollar in food waste reduction techniques generates around $14 dollars in return, according to a report released last month by the World Resource Institute. Restaurants typically experience the highest returns, with hotels, food service companies and food retailers tending to have ratios between 5:1 and 10:1.
In the corporate sphere, WRI looked at food waste reduction efforts at nearly 1,200 business sites across 17 countries and more than 700 companies, including food manufacturing, food retail, hospitality, restaurants and other food service. They found that 99 percent of the sites earned a positive return on investment. The median benefit-cost ratio — where half of the sites achieved a higher ratio while half achieved a lower ratio — was 14:1. In other words, half of the business sites earned greater than a 14-fold financial return on investment.
The report also explores how food waste reduction efforts play out at the city level. Recognizing the important role cities play in cutting food waste, it uncovered some financial impacts of food waste efforts.
Reducing food loss and waste can generate a “triple win” by saving money for farmers, companies and households. It also can help feed more people while alleviating pressure on water, land and climate. But despite this clear economic benefit, nearly 40 percent of the food we grow in the United States goes to waste, costing as much as $161 billion each year. Manufacturers are major generators of this food waste, creating more than 7 billion pounds each year. This level of inefficiency in the food system has huge economic, social and environmental consequences.
While food waste often is viewed as a social and environmental problem, it’s also an economic one. Each year, uneaten food costs the world up to $400 billion annually. More than half of this comes from the United States — which spends more than $218 billion growing, processing, transporting and disposing food that’s never eaten. That’s a full 1.3 percent of total GDP.
Given the high economic stakes, it makes sense that food companies around the world are looking for innovative ways to cut down on food waste. There is $1.9 billion of annual business profit potential from the revenue and cost savings of implementing various recycling and food waste prevention strategies, research shows.
Many forward-thinking food firms already are acting on this by investing in food waste solutions. Here are some notable ones:
In our everyday lives, most of us don’t think much about waste — once out of sight, it’s out of mind. But whether it’s individual households, small businesses and major food manufacturers or even municipalities, there are many direct and indirect costs associated with what we throw out that hurt the planet just as much as our pocketbooks.
It might surprise you to learn that we waste so much food globally that it would take farmland the size of Mexico just to grow the amount of food that humans produce, but do not eat every year, according to the World Resources Institute. The Waste Resources and Action Program (WRAP) has calculated that uneaten food costs the world up to $400 billion annually, providing a huge financial incentive for business to act on cutting down on this waste.