Sustainability & ME: breaking new grounds

Posted on February 01, 2014 in Perspectives, Sustainability and ME
By USM Free Press

By: Shaun Carland

Anyone who has spent significant time at USM knows that coffee is a way of life.  It fuels our last minute study sessions and is a perfect way to meet up with new friends.  We all know where our coffee comes from–Coffee by Design, but where does it go?

Historically, the university disposed of the leftover coffee grounds in the trash, leaving between seven and nine tons of waste to accumulate per year.  In 2012, the Office of Sustainability partnered with USM Dining Services to start a program that collects, recycles and reuses all coffee grounds from food service locations in Portland and Gorham.  In addition to diverting almost two percent of the university’s entire waste stream, recycling coffee grounds helps both the USM Dining Services and the custodial crews by providing a quick and easy way to dispose of messy wet coffee grounds.

In addition, the organic nutrients in coffee grounds make them excellent soil amendments and additives.  In Gorham, coffee grounds are collected and, along with other yard waste from the campus such as grass clippings and pruned branches, go to a local operation where they are turned into loam.  On the Portland campus, coffee grounds have various uses. A portion of the coffee grounds go to Garbage to Garden, a Portland based company that collects compostable organic material from residential and commercial properties for composting. Another portion of the coffee grounds are directly spread onto campus lawns, trees and mulched beds, weather permitting. Since the coffee grounds are just slightly acidic, they can begin breaking down faster and do not need to be composted. The remaining coffee grounds are distributed to the USM Community Garden.

“The USM Community Garden uses hundreds of pounds of these recycled coffee grounds to add a nitrogen component to our soil.  Nitrogen is an essential element that all plants require for adequate growth. Coffee grounds also help to resist pests, disease, improve soil composition and stimulate favorable microorganisms. No more need for buying bagged soil amendments,” said Jocylin Egan, coordinator of the USM Community Garden.

Does your office drink a lot of coffee and generate lots of used coffee grounds?  The Office of Sustainability is looking to expand coffee ground recycling in academic and administrative offices across the university. Coffee ground recycling will reduce USM’s waste costs while simultaneously promoting environmental stewardship.  If you are interested in recycling coffee grounds at your office, contact Steve Sweeney, resource recovery supervisor, at ssweeney@usm.maine.edu or call (207) 780-4658.

Individuals who produce their own coffee grounds can dispose of them in the food waste disposal bin in the Woodbury Campus Center food court seating area where they will be composted. They can also be left in the designated bin in the USM Community Garden in Portland. Coffee Grounds, like all organics, need to be disposed of speedily in order to maintain cleanliness. So however you choose to recycle them, do it quickly!

Shaun Carland is an undergrad student who works for the Office of Sustainability and is a devoted fan of coffee.

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