Macau Matters | Coffee Recycling

Richard Whitfield

The natural world is an excellent recycler – biological processes consume natural resources to live and produce waste, and other processes then further “eat” those wastes and the cycle continues. Carnivores eat herbivores which eat plants; when they die the carcasses of animals and plants are decomposed by microbes and become plant food. Humanity is not a good recycler and we are gradually destroying the environment that sustains us by consuming resources to create products and wastes that are not (or cannot be) recycled. Burning fossil fuels to generate energy and load the atmosphere with CO2 is the classic example.

Another case is coffee. It is an increasingly popular drink all round the world. You take the seeds from the berries of the coffee plant, roast them and then grind them up into a powder. You then filter hot water through the coffee powder to create a flavorsome drink and throw away the used coffee grounds. These used coffee grounds then mostly end up in landfills where they anaerobically decompose with methane gas being a resulting waste product. Among other things, methane is a greenhouse gas which is 34 times more potent than CO2!

Pollution and environmental issues are increasingly important in this region. China, for one, has major environmental problems that are garnering ever increasing government and community attention and action. Measures to contain pollution are also receiving much greater attention in Macau. These trends will only continue and there will be ever increasing demand to reduce polluting activities.

In keeping with this trend towards reducing pollution and recycling wastes, people can scatter coffee grounds in their gardens to improve their soils. Even better, coffee grounds can be used in composting to create an excellent soil fertilizer. Composting is the aerobic decomposition of vegetable matter that does not product methane. Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen, phosphorous, zinc, and iron and adding 20% coffee grounds to compost makes an especially good soil conditioner for subsequently growing vegetables. Coffee grounds also encourage the growth of microbes and worms that are an essential part of composting – they “eat” the decomposing plant matter to release the nutrients. In this way waste coffee grounds become an excellent gardening and farming resource and do not release methane into the atmosphere, thus reducing global warming.

There is a very good social enterprise in Melbourne, Australia ( that collects used coffee grounds from food outlets and delivers it to individuals, community gardens and other organizations where it is used as a feedstock for composting. Cafés and the like are happy to pay a small subscription to cover the collection and redistribution costs for the waste coffee grounds because they receive a recycling certification and can promote their good environmental practices to customers. The cost is small and the marketing value is large because most people understand and appreciate being “environment friendly”, even if some governments do not.

In Macau we, and the many, many tourists who visit here, drink a lot of coffee. We also have a lot of casinos and public spaces with extensive gardens, and just across the border we have a lot of market gardens. All of these need good compost. I am sure that an organization like Reground could be set up here and be very successful. I suspect that extending the idea to Hong Kong and China in the future would also be a “no brainer”. Anybody interested?

Categories Opinion