worm composting

Goodbye to the take-away cup

Back in April 2017 I was given a “completely compostable” disposable cup in order to try some batch brew. But how “compostable” is “completely compostable” really? It needed to be tested! And so, once it was empty, the cup was placed into a worm composting bin and left to see how long it took to compost.

Each week I took a photograph of the cup to see how it was composting, the results of which were made into the film below. How long did it take? You can watch the film or scroll past to find out more:

Did it compost?

110 weeks! That is more than two years in the worm bin. Is that how long you thought it would take? When things are marked “compostable”, even when they are marked with a regulatory compostable mark like EN13432 or ASTM6400, this usually means the item is compostable only in an industrial setting. Industrial composting facilities are kept at 58C, very far from the conditions found in a London based worm bin (more details here) or indeed from most people’s idea of a compost bin.

The OK Vincotte label is for items that are supposed to be genuinely “home” compostable. Will this bag from Amoret coffee compost in the worm bin? It is in there now but as we are in winter, the worms have slowed down to such an extent that it would not be fair to start a new #willitcompost just yet.

What about defining labels for a genuine “home” composting environment? The problem here is that a worm composting bin in London will be very different from a more conventional compost heap in a tropical country. How can you define one set of conditions that are universally applicable? One label that tries is “OK Vincotte” but it seems quite rare and indeed I have only seen this once ‘in the wild’: on bags of Amoret roasted coffee (see picture). Have you spotted them anywhere else?

The conclusion from all this? We all need to think about how we each can live more simply and sustainably. Perhaps a re-usable cup will be part of the way that you do this. (Some of them are reviewed by Brian’s coffeespot linked here). Or maybe you’ll opt to drink your coffee to-stay. Whatever else it involves though, it can’t be by putting each “compostable” take-away coffee cup we consume in a worm composting bin in London or imagining that they will somehow compost in a landfill!

Do let me know what you are doing to address the issues of your own coffee waste either in the comments below, on Twitter or over on Facebook. I look forward to continuing the discussion there.

Of worms and grind

coffee ground, grind, composting

What do you do with your used coffee grounds?

What do you do with your finished coffee grounds? Feed them straight to the plants? Donate them to Biobean to be transformed into fuel? Or perhaps turn them into compost with a worm bin? Ground to Ground is a website dedicated to sharing information about what can be done with old grounds. My preferred option though is the worm bin. Each Chemex of coffee grounds gets put out into the “can-o-worms” compost bin ready to be transformed into compost and plant fertiliser.

I had thought that there could be very little connection between my worms (so to speak) and the Bean Thinking website. However, I recently came across an anecdote about Charles Darwin that, to me at least, unites some of what Bean Thinking is about with my can-o-worms.

can-o-worms, worms, coffee grounds, composting

The top layer of my worm bin. You can just see some coffee grounds but it is mostly cabbage.

Darwin’s last book was “The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms” published in 1881. After Darwin’s death (in 1882), Edward Aveling (1849-1898) wrote about meeting Darwin years earlier. In “Charles Darwin and Karl Marx: A Comparison” (1897), Aveling wrote: “I remember, in my youthful ignorance, asking Darwin why he dealt with animals so insignificant as worms. I shall not forget his reply, or the look that accompanied it. ‘I have been studying their habits for forty years’.”

By studying what to others looks insignificant, Darwin had made huge progress in our understanding of worm behaviour. This has led to our current knowledge about the contribution of worms to the ecosystem and the benefits of composting our coffee grounds, both for our plants and our planet. It strikes me that we can all benefit from slowing down and noticing what seems insignificant.

Perhaps you do something unusual with your old coffee grounds? Maybe you have noticed something about coffee grounds and worm behaviour. Whatever it is, do let me know in the comments section below.