Grounds for Sustainability

by Hannah Brinks • photo by Two Eagles Marcus

Hayley serves up a Lady Lazarus at The Sparrows Coffee & News Stand.

Coffee has become a part of our cultural everyday. Its sips invigorate morning commuters, warms cold hands on winter days, calms shaking nerves, and gathers together friends and communities. Dave Battjes, head roaster at Madcap, describes the work that goes into bringing forth that perfect cup.

“Coffee takes a wild trip from the farmers to the processors, shippers, roasters, baristas and everyone in between until it reaches your hand,” he said. “There is an incredible amount of collaboration in this industry to get you that perfect cup you drink every morning.”

It’s one of his favorite things about coffee; the dedication and attention to detail is what makes quality products and gives consumers a pleasant experience. One can easily see how much thought and care are involved in the drink itself, but what about the spent grounds your favorite beverage leaves behind?

If we take a walk around the city of Grand Rapids, the little shops that offer us our cups of coffee are working to use that waste responsibly. Lori Slager Wenzel, the owner of The Sparrows on Wealthy Street, said that finding new products is one of her favorite parts of her job, and she thinks being environmentally responsible is part of serving her customers and their community.

“We use Organicycle. They will come and pick up our coffee grounds, spent tea leaves, paper products and cardboard,” she said. “We recycle a ton. We just want to make the smallest footprint that we can.”

The Sparrows is not the only company that puts their coffee grounds to good use. Cassandra Beach, the lead product analyst at Ferris Coffee & Nut Company, helped develop a composting plan for their coffee shop and roasters. Since they opened the café in September 2015, they have diverted approximately 4.5 tons of waste from the landfill.

“Grand Rapids is a leader in sustainability,” Beach said. “We have all the resources, and we have a customer base that is conscious about these things. We feel we have a responsibility to keep our conscientious customers pleased.”

Organicycle helps these, and other coffee shops, do just that: working to shrink their footprint and make efforts toward sustainability. Dan Tietema is responsible for managing and facilitating all operations of their work.

“Organic waste, including coffee grounds, make up 65 percent of trash that ends up in landfills,” Tietema said. “My service allows customers to divert that waste to be used for recycled goods.”

While it is great that our local coffee companies are being responsible with their waste, not all of us are large-scale coffee consumers—despite being caffeine addicts. What about the grounds that gather in your coffee pot or French press every morning? Here are some ways that you can make your coffee waste work for you.

Use it in your garden.

You don’t need to compost in order for your garden to benefit from your morning fix. Simply mix coffee grounds into the soil to repel slugs and other damaging insects as well as adding nitrogen to improve your soil’s pH. “It will help make nitrogen rich soil,” Tietema explained. “If anyone grows hydrangeas, roses, azaleas or other acid loving plants they should sprinkle spent grounds on the soil surrounding the base of the plant. Hydrangeas especially will bloom with more vibrant colors when the soil is acidic.” Fun fact, you can also use grounds in the bottom of your vases to help prolong the life of fresh-cut flowers.


When coffee grounds dry out, they become rough and can be used as a natural abrasive. Scour pots and pans, remove scratches from the surface of furniture or scrub ashes and debris from your fireplace. Bonus, coffee grounds smell wonderful.

Remove odors.

Like using it as a cleaning agent, you can also put coffee grounds in a fridge or freezer to absorb unpleasant smells. To spread the coffee smell, find a recipe for DIY coffee ground candles online.

Treat your skin.

Mix a coffee-ground face mask and scrub (see page 22 for a recipe!). Leave leftover grounds on your face for five to ten minutes before scrubbing off with warm water.


Tietema explained that companies like Organicycle have low volume options for the layman if you want to have someone pick up your compost. “Anyone who lives in Grand Rapids can have this service. It works just like your garbage or recycling programs. All of our spent coffee grounds and other compostables go into a cart that is picked up once a week.”

Mask furniture scratches.

Use a Q-tip to work used coffee grounds into the scuff and let sit for 10 minutes before buffering them away with a cotton rag.

Add antique character to paper.

For those seeking a creative fix, mix water and coffee grounds in a large baking pan. Place paper into to mixture and let it sit for one minute before removing it from the pan and hanging it to dry. Brush of excess grounds when completely dry.

If you’d like to use your compost in your garden, Our Kitchen Table is a nonprofit that serves the greater Grand Rapids area. They seek to promote social justice and assist communities in improving their health and environment. Not only do they have garden areas available, but they also offer classes on how to do composting at home.

Aside from chipping away at her ever-growing reading list, Hannah enjoys writing, running, traveling, and sipping coffee with her family and friends.




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