In Starbucks Corp.’s hometown of Seattle, even the flower beds smell like coffee, the result of a popular program to hand out spent grounds to gardeners as a nitrogen-rich mulch or compost.
Under the plan, dubbed “Grounds For Your Garden,” the world’s largest coffee shop chain cuts its trash bill by enlisting customers to haul off a chunk of its garbage and earns praise from environmentalists for creating chemical-free fertilizer.
“We continue to see a tremendous amount of interest in this particular program,” said Ben Packard, Starbucks director of environmental affairs. “We don’t give away a lot of free things in our stores.”
4,000 stores offering
Starbucks has handed out coffee grounds for years, but only when customers asked for it. Now in a nod toward Earth Day on April 22, Starbucks has mounted a major push, setting out five-pound bags of grounds in bins at its approximately 4,000 North American company-owned cafes.
Coffee grounds make up 17 percent of Starbucks’ store waste by volume or 40 percent by weight.
The company has not calculated how much it saves on its trash bill through the program, but says it keeps about 25 percent of its grounds out of landfills.
That would equate to about 12 million pounds each year by industry estimates. Starbucks does not disclose its coffee consumption for competitive reasons.
The program is especially popular in Seattle, where the mild, wet climate supports fanatical, year-round gardeners including many who shun chemicals and pass by a Starbucks store — there are 420 in Washington state — every few blocks.
In addition, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, Massachusetts and parts of Florida have similar support for recycling and have embraced grounds composting.
People in colder cities show less interest, though Starbucks will reassess the demand after the current month-long promotion ends.
Why coffee composting?
Just how good is coffee for your garden?
“It’s a good way to increase good organic matter in your compost. You can use also it as a mulch with one or two inches to hold in moisture and keep weeds down,” said Spencer Orman, a “master composter” who works with the organic gardening group Seattle Tilth.
Coffee is acidic, which can harm some plants but benefits others like evergreens and rhododendrons. The nitrogen it releases is a key ingredient in composting along with carbon, water and air.
Orman remembers Starbucks dumping a truckload of grounds at a community garden four years ago, where its fine texture helps it break down quickly. It also is particularly attractive to worms, which turn organic material into compost by eating it, and then excreting it.
“I have had good results and worms love it,” Orman said.
Do worms, like people, get the same caffeine buzz that has addicted millions of humans?
“That hasn’t been documented, but I wouldn’t doubt it,” Orman said.