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GM Sees No Grounds to Throw Coffee Away

Leon Kaye | Friday April 27th, 2012 | 2 Comments
GM, general motors, coffee, coffee grounds, composting, recycling, waste diversion, Leon Kaye, John Bradburn

Those manky coffee grounds are gold for your garden.

These are good times for General Motors (GM). Once left for dead, GM has climbed back on top of its perch as the world’s largest automaker. After a rough start earlier this year, Chevy Volt sales surged in March. And once known as a sluggish company slow to adapt with the times, the Detroit giant is making some interesting moves on clean energy investment and waste diversion.

Speaking of recycling and waste, GM employees, led by its manager of waste reduction John Bradburn, are doing their part to divert waste from landfill. Bradburn and one of the groups within GM’s Warren Tech Center are taking coffee grounds out of the office and back home to their gardens. The coffee grounds alone add up to about 3000 pounds not sent to garbage dumps annually.

Coffee grounds are one of the lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to composting and other ecological uses around the home and yard. Rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients, your leftovers from your morning cup of java can help plants thrive. Old coffee grounds are great for vegetable gardens and are especially suited for crops that need acidic soil (like blueberries). If you are trying to keep pests, rodents and neighborhood cats out of the garden, the coffee smell my very well repel them. Home growing kit fanatics will find that the grounds also are a great bed for mushrooms. And if you are the DIY type, scooping your hands in a batch of those morning coffee grounds and then rubbing them under a faucet can help get those stains off your skin without the use of harmful chemicals. If you have a large garden and do not consume enough coffee during the day to enrich all that soil, you can troll over to your neighborhood coffee shop, talk with a manager and worker about when you can pick up the unwanted grounds, and do your part to prevent what is actually a valuable resources from ending up in the trash. Be forewarned, however: chances are someone else in the know is picking up that used coffee. Watch for coffee grounds to become the new french fry oil.

For Bradburn and his fellow gardening aficionados in Warren, their effort to remove about 20 gallons of coffee grounds a week from the office is just one example of how professionals at even small companies can take steps towards a more sustainable business. Plus collecting all those grounds can save money–and stop you from buying unnecessary fertilizers and other products at the local home improvement store.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy GM’s Beyond Now site.


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  • Shanegenziuk

    Great article guys. I write extensively about coffee grounds and run a program with helps business do the same thing, called Ground to Ground.
    We have collected tonnes of coffee grounds, low hanging fruit indeed!

    Best of luck with this GM.
    Groundtoground.org

  • Valerie

    We drink a LOT of coffee and the idea of talking to the coffee shop is great! Thanks for helping us make a change