Success story: how one business is making zero-waste coffee

The social enterprise start-up Kua, thanks to a City of Sydney grant, has devised the zero-waste solution of ‘lending’ coffee beans to local businesses and taking back the coffee grounds for re-use.

What is Kua doing?

Social enterprise start-up Kua delivers coffee beans and collects coffee grounds in a circular business model.

Kua delivers specialty Ugandan-grown coffee beans in benchtop canisters to Sydney workplaces through a subscription-based model. The used grounds are then provided to community gardnes throughout Sydney.

These recipients include Indigrow, an Aboriginal Social Enterprise, along with smaller organisations like the Randwick Community Garden and Camdenville Community Garden in Newtown. Another social enterprise, Raisethebar, turns the coffee grounds into body scrubs.

Why coffee grounds?

Too often coffee grounds end up in landfill, despite their ability to be used as high-quality compost.

Coffee grounds are a natural fertiliser. They can also be used as a substrate to grow mushrooms and feature in beauty products. But, too much of the time, they end up in landfill, where they emit methane and contribute to climate change.

So far, Kua has saved more than 3000kg of coffee grounds from landfill – the waste from more than 160,000 cups of coffee! Meanwhile, 100% of the profits go to farmers in Uganda to help build resilience to climate change into their farms.

This project, through a partnership with Ecotrust, supports farmers to plant native trees to sequester carbon and build terraced waterways. This helps regreen the mountains where they grow coffee, and stabilise the slopes.

Their start-up in 2019

Coffee grounds have the potential to be turned into wonderful compost – all their needed was a start-up to make it happen.

In 2019, Kua received funding for a feasibility study. This allowed them to run a pilot project testing their concept with six workplaces.

“The grant allowed us to experiment with our business model,” Kua co-founder Darcy Small said. “It gave us the confidence to try something different. Even though our pilot didn’t perfectly work, it showed us the business-to-business model had real potential.

Now, Kua is looking at whether they can do a similar service for people who buy coffee at home and looking at cafes. For home delivery, this will include packaging that is 100% compostable, rather than reusable, to enable a closed-loop system – previously, workplaces were the collection points for the coffee waste and reusable containers.

What does this mean for other businesses?

Through their business model, Kua is contributing to the circular economy.

The Kua story shows us that not only do we need innovative start-ups like these, but that we need significant council and government investment in them to get them off the ground. It shows us that this business model is financially sustainable, and that no idea is too good to be true.

And it shows us that a circular economy might be somewhere in our future!


Information taken from Inside Waste.

Read about Queensland’s proposed single-use plastics ban, and how composting can achieve a circular economy, on our blog.


Article by Tallis Baker

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