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Eco-friendly recyling

From used coffee grounds to tasty rice chips

By Dec 05, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

From used coffee grounds to tasty rice chips

A single cup of americano produces 14 grams of used coffee grounds. Only 0.2% of a coffee bean is used to extract coffee while the remaining 99.8% becomes waste. Last year, coffee consumption in South Korea produced a total of 149,038 tons of used coffee grounds.

Coffee grounds are actually a valuable resource as they do not contain any impurities such as heavy metals while offering a pleasant and unique fragrance. Sadly, there is no recycling system in place for coffee grounds so they are thrown away as general trash in Korea where garbage is categorized as either general waste, food or recyclable. 

Despite its rich offering as a natural resource, coffee grounds can cause pollution as they produce carbon dioxide when the wet substance burns alongside other waste materials during incineration.

Recently, private companies including Hyundai Steel Company and Starbucks have stepped up to discuss various ways to recycle coffee grounds.


In Korea, Starbucks partakes in creating natural compost by collecting used coffee grounds from 1,300 stores nationwide. When soil and coffee waste are mixed at a ratio of 9:1 it becomes a natural fertilizer rich in organic content and effective at pest control. 

In 2015, Starbucks partnered with Gyeonggi province to create eco-friendly fertilizer from used coffee grounds and provide it to local farmhouses. The goal was to promote consumption of local agricultural products and boost resource recycling.  

Also, Starbucks joined forces with the Ministry of Environment and Korea Zero Waste Movement Network in 2016, to set up a recycling process in which coffee grounds would be collected from Starbucks stores and sent to a company that will then recycle it.

Volunteers distribute coffee compost made from Starbucks used coffee grounds to farms
Volunteers distribute coffee compost made from Starbucks used coffee grounds to farms

“Eco-friendly coffee compost is made by mixing sawdust and farmyard manure with coffee grounds and letting it mature for about six months," said a Starbucks official.

“This year, we provided around 180,000 bags of fertilizer valued at around $633,439 to various farms across the nation,” the official said.

Agricultural products cultivated with eco-friendly compost is also used as ingredients for Starbucks' favorite food items. For example, the coffee chain’s popular rice chips, biscotti and sponge cakes are made with rice harvested from coffee compost.

Starbucks' popular rice chips are made from rice cultivated using coffee compost
Starbucks' popular rice chips are made from rice cultivated using coffee compost

Hyundai Steel has also endorsed a project in which used coffee grounds are collected from 62 coffee shops in the port city of Incheon, and then recycled as resources. The company aims to lay the foundation for resource recycling by offering a public collection system.


Coffee grounds can also be used as bioenergy given that its heating value per kilogram is 5648.7 kilocalories (kcal), double that of tree bark (2827.9 kcal), and more than a large first-tier wood pellet (4,300 kcal).

Also, coffee grounds are rich in wood components such as cellulose and lignin while producing low outputs of carbon monoxide and dust, which makes it even more eco-friendly.

“If we recycled the 150,000 tons of used coffee grounds from last year into bioenergy fuel then we would’ve cut back around 18 billion won ($16.6 million) in energy expenses,” said Kim Kyung-min, an official from the environment and labor team at National Assembly Research Service.

Kim urged the government to introduce an amendment that would recognize coffee grounds as bioenergy resources instead of just organic waste.

Write to Bora Kim at

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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