Pep up your soil and cut landfill waste with spent coffee grinds.
WHEN Shane Genziuk was very young, he loved gardening – but by his teenage years, he’d lost interest. Then in 2010, he had an epiphany. A stray onion had sprouted in his cupboard; on a whim, the 39-year-old IT-manager popped it in the earth.
“I didn’t think twice about it, but later when I saw it had started to flower all by itself, I thought it was so beautiful. I just wanted to try growing other things,” he says.
He approached his new hobby with zeal, but something slowed him down. Mr Genziuk and his family live on very sandy soil in Bentleigh.
“It’s a real struggle for gardeners out here,” he says. “I wanted to build up my soil fertility as naturally as possible, so I didn’t want to use commercial fertilisers.”
Surfing the web for tips, he came across a reference to used coffee grounds. “I got my hands on some and started using them in compost and it was so good I needed more,” he says.
Now, he collects grounds from five different cafes. He uses them to make compost, together with other unwanted resources mined from suburbia: his neighbours’ grass clippings and wilted vegies from a local greengrocer.
“I bring home tonnes of stuff and compost it all and create this amazing soil. But coffee grounds are the basis of it.”
Mr Genziuk started a blog, called Ground to Ground, extolling the virtues of collecting the daily grind. He has even created a logo for participating cafes to put in their windows.
While he doesn’t keep track of participants, he knows of at least 50 cafes, and more than 100 householders who are taking his advice. In his CBD office, over forty people collect from several cafes – between them, they haul away about 200 kilograms each week.
A similar scheme, called Compost Mates, has been trialled elsewhere in Melbourne. Coordinated by Cultivating Community, the project involves householders collecting coffee grounds and certain kinds of kitchen waste (no meat, no plate scrapings) from cafes.
The organisation’s composting guru, Hannah Moloney, says the used grounds have a good balance of carbon and nitrogen and are slightly acidic. “They’re perfect to use in compost, layered with a mix of materials,” she says. (Fallen autumn leaves and food scraps are easy, free accompaniments.)
Ms Moloney says gardeners can also apply spent grounds to vegie patches as mulch (in moderation), or spread them around seedlings as a snail deterrent.
In Clifton Hill, residents have been collecting buckets of coffee grounds and kitchen scraps every day from two venues, Squirrel Café and Café Quince. “They’ve diverted over 8 tonnes from landfill in the last year,” she says.
For Mr Genziuk, observing the way we discard coffee grounds has been a catalyst for thinking more broadly about our way of life and the resources we waste. Now, his fertile backyard is not only stocked with vegies, but also fruit trees, quails, and fish (in an aquaponics system).
“I think we have a lot of problems in society, with the way we’ve become so disconnected to natural cycles,” he says.
“Coffee is just one thing, and every café generates at least 50 kilos of grounds a week. Every time I see a café, I know they serve coffee, but now I know they give away fertiliser as well.”