Reduce, reuse, re-caffeinate: Oxford’s Coffee Run project

Editor’s note: This article was written by Laura Holden of the Oxford Student for Impact Journalism Day. You can access more articles from other student publications here.

Coffee: the lifeblood of every student. In the United Kingdom, we drink approximately 55 million cups of coffee per day, while 80 percent of UK households buy instant coffee for in-home consumption. But did you know that on average, we use just 18 to 22 percent of the coffee bean when we make a cup of coffee?

The organic waste of coffee drinking is an environmental headache. Coffee may keep us awake in lectures, but coffee waste ends up in landfills, contributing to greenhouse gases and further increasing the wasteful output of human activities.

The Coffee Run is a project run by students volunteering with the Oxford Hub and in collaboration with the Oxford Circular Collective. Its aim is to redistribute coffee waste from cafés to allotments, using the waste as fertilizer and compost, and creating a circular economy, where waste production of one good (coffee) is reused in the production of another good (fruit and vegetables).

It works by combining two fads of the day: coffee addiction and a Deliveroo-style delivery system. On Coffee Run Fridays, volunteers will pick up the coffee grounds at a coffee shop and then deliver them to an allotment over the weekend on their infamous Oxford bikes.

Coffee grounds have been proved to contain useful amounts of phosphorus and potassium, as well as low levels of nitrogen. They work best with acid-loving plants — including blueberries, avocados and tomatoes — and have also been suggested to be effective in keeping slugs and snails away from plants. A recent study by Leeds Beckett University supports the projects aims by concluding that waste coffee grounds “represent an under-utilised high nutrient material with potential to be exploited.”

The idea originally came from the Oxford Hub, conveniently located in the same building as the Turl Street Kitchen, a popular local café-restaurant. Since then, it has evolved into a core team of students who have been working to make the idea a reality. So far, it has gathered interest from multiple enthusiastic cafés and allotments keen to join the waste-reducing initiative. Having conducted several test runs and establishing a network of contacts and supporters, Coffee Run plans to officially launch at the beginning of Trinity term 2017.

As with every project, there have been issues along the way. Run by students, the Coffee Run had to scale back its initial intentions.

“When starting the project, we ambitiously aimed to pick up all the waste coffee grounds produced by local cafés,” said Clarisse Pierre, the leader of the project and an undergraduate at St. Catherine’s College studying geography. “After doing some research, we realized that this would require daily trips due to a lack of storage space in cafés and a need to keep things fresh.”

The group came up with the alternative idea of Coffee Run Fridays, when volunteers go to as many cafés as possible and collect waste just on the day to deliver over the weekend.

Clarisse said that this is a “starting point,” as the group has bigger ideas for the future of Coffee Run. It hopes to work with another local student-run initiative, Project Soup, by growing gourmet oyster mushrooms and donating them to be cooked for community dinners. It has also been in communication with Teach Green, a project in which a group of students who partner with local schools educate kids about environmental issues in Oxford. The project hopes to expand in the coming months and partner with these Oxford Hub initiatives.

The Oxford Hub runs a series of practical-led volunteering opportunities for students and often organized by students. Founded in 2007, it is the first of many branches across other UK universities in the South of England. Coffee Run is its newest project among several others at the University of Oxford.

While Coffee Run is yet to be fully fledged, it has been working hard to establish a support network for its launch. Multiple volunteers have already signed up after a launch event during Student Volunteering Week in Hilary term, and it has also been featured in the Oxford Mail. Nivedita Natarajan, a DPhil student at Lincoln College, said she joined the project “to be a part of the team that helps reduce waste, eventually contributing to a better environment and also to learn and develop new skill sets.”

The Coffee Run is not the first project of this kind. Starbucks has a “Grounds for Your Garden” program through which customers can pick up a free bag of used coffee grounds in some stores. Costa has since rolled out a similar campaign called “Grounds for Grounds.”

But getting students involved is important in targeting an important audience and educating future generations. Clarisse got involved “to contribute to a project which is environmentally beneficial, socially valuable, economically sound,” and inspire further involvement among environmentally conscious students.

Addictions are closely followed by articles full of reasons why consuming too much of one thing is bad for health. Little, however, has been made on the side of environmental harm. Coffee has become the 21st century addiction of the modern masses. The waste it produces is astronomical in ratio to what it creates. But it can be used organically and sustainably.

Coffee Run supports local communities and reduces the impact of global habits in providing a natural, environmentally friendly way to manage coffee-grounds waste.

Contact Laura Holden at



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