‘Kafsimo’ is a groundbreaking community-based project which collects used coffee grounds from cafes in Northern Greece and converts them into clean biofuel.
Its immediate aim is to reduce the amount of organic waste sent to landfill by collecting used coffee grounds and transforming this economic ‘output’ (coffee waste) into a green economic ‘input’, a biofuel. At the same time, the project addresses social issues, such as inclusivity, employment and consumption habits, thus contributing to social, economic and environmental sustainability.
The long-term aim of the project is to create a prototype model of collection and recycling of coffee waste; a model that can be replicated in other regions and easily adapted to other organic waste streams, so that more and more waste can be diverted from the landfill and used as an economic ‘input’ and more and more people can benefit from the resulting output – the biofuel.
With the slogan ’Close the Circle’, the team of Kafsimo along with its network of partner-cafes in two cities of Northern Greece encourages citizens to change their coffee-drinking habits to reduce the amount of coffee that ends up in the landfill. Operating in a socially inclusive manner and in line with the principles of a fair and equitable economy, Kafsimo simultaneously addresses environmental, social and economic issues.
How it works:
Used coffee grounds are collected from the participating coffee shops in Kilkis and Thessaloniki using an electric van. Taking a route that minimises emissions, the waste is transported to a specially designed greenhouse for dehydration and preparation for the stage of processing.
The formula and method (perfected after many months of experimentation and testing), aim to convert the grounds into biofuel pellets or briquettes which can be used in houses , local industries and public spaces for heating.
The project trains and employs people from vulnerable groups, creating jobs for them and developing their employability potential.
Background and context:
As daily life in Greece has been challenging for a large section of the population since the recent financial crisis and with its protracted effects still being felt, any environmental innovation that requires public participation and a changing of habits must necessarily include equal consideration of the economic and social aspects of the framework in which it is being implemented.
Our project therefore gives equal consideration to all of these aspects, while focusing on reducing organic waste. It is noted that Greece produces 498kg of urban solid waste per person/year. 81% of this ends up in landfills, even though more than 40% of it is organic.
This is the first case study of food waste utilisation which aims to initiate ecologically sound circular practices of sustainability, through the social and labour market integration of vulnerable groups in society and the development of viable social enterprises.
‘Kafsimo’ is part of a wider innovative circular economy and local barter venture combining the production of ‘Staramaki’ (drinking straws made from the by-products of wheat production) with the Kafsimo model. Staramaki, a cooperative social enterprise, utilises agricultural ‘waste’ to create reusable, organic drinking straws. A symbolic percentage of straws are exchanged with café owners for used coffee grounds. In this way, two sources of ‘waste’ (one agricultural and one urban) are repurposed back into the economy as useful ‘inputs’ rather than discarded as the end ‘outputs’ of a linear economy.
100,000,000 kg of coffee waste ends up in the landfills of Greece every year, polluting
the atmosphere, the land and the aquifers. This project collects the coffee grounds via a low emissions vehicle, therefore reducing the use of fossil fuels related to transport and the number of sanitation vehicles needed to transport waste to landfill. Currently approximately 400 kg of coffee is collected daily from 70 cafes.
The ‘Kafsimo’ products (briquettes and pellets) is excellent solid biofuel which provides heat, without the reliance on fossil fuels and with a smaller atmospheric output. The fuel’s origin, collection process and use all contribute to a reduced environmental footprint.
Through the participating cafes, the public becomes acquainted not only with the project itself, but also with environmentally friendly ways to consume coffee and other drinks, such as through Staramaki and reusable coffee cups.
It creates jobs for vulnerable social groups and provides training in the wider green-economy. Through this approach and the subsequent economic independence, vulnerable groups of the community are empowered and social integration is supported. The Kafsimo team also engages in widespread public education on the reuse and repurposing of organic waste, as well as in more specialised training workshops with university students.
This public engagement encourages active citizenship in general and emphasises the potential of each individual to contribute to environmental and social transformation through local actions and small changes in their habits.
In Greece, environmental activity and green entrepreneurship is developing as a new, emerging sector of the economy. This project -which is run as a social enterprise- showcases how waste management and the circular economy can be self-sustaining business rather than a charity. The proper management of food waste not only saves resources but also avoids the costs associated with collection, transportation and disposal and provides cheaper fuel. In addition, over time, the economic benefits of reduced municipal costs wasted on landfill fines will be transferred to citizens in the form of lower municipal taxes.
The future of Kafsimo: long term prospects-
The project aims to change the prevalent perception around organic waste from ‘rubbish’ to ‘potential treasure’ and to facilitate the transition to a circular economy through the return of organic waste into the production cycle.
It balances the social and economic concerns and the technical utilisation of valuable materials – former waste – while promoting the notion that environmental, economic and social issues are interrelated and require a common solution.
Through innovative scientific, social, educational and economic actions, Kafsimo engages, informs and educates the public in a participatory way to demonstrate the economic gains of repurposing organic waste.
The combination of groundbreaking scientific progress, with social inclusion and economic benefits as multiple solutions that this one project addresses makes it pioneering and innovative. Furthermore, these complex issues are promoted to the public through creative, understandable and directly usable ways, to allow innovative science to have an immediate impact in the public sphere.
The whole design of the project -from the manner of approaching and sensitising the stakeholders, the process of collecting the waste at its source, its collection and transportation to the treatment infrastructure with minimal-emissions logistics – has been created with the aim of making this model replicable in other areas and adaptable to other organic waste streams. However, the crucial aspect is intersectionality – how the social factor connects and interacts with environmental and economic factors.
The project shows that proper organic waste management is not simply about putting money into ‘green issues’, instead, it can create jobs for vulnerable groups and stimulate local economies. As such, the long term purpose of Kafsimo is to standardise a plan for the holistic management of organic waste. Our vision is for Kafsimo to scale up to the point where no coffee bean is wasted, and to be replicated until all regions are organic waste-free.