Every year, in the Netherlands alone, 250 million kilos of coffee grounds end up in the bin. With a background in hospitality, Guido ten Hengel (previously working in food purchasing for V&D’s La Place) and Paul van der Hulst (former director of Koffiebranderij Peeze) thought it was time to handle coffee waste more responsibly. In his previous job, Guido already noticed how valuable coffee grounds can be. In 2001, La Place was the first large company in the Netherlands to start collecting coffee grounds. Using old mayonnaise buckets, the coffee grounds were transported to Green Recycled Organics (GRO), the first oyster mushroom grower in the Netherlands, to be used as fertiliser. The goal Guido and Paul work towards is all about stopping the unbridled incineration of coffee grounds, and turning this waste flow into something useful with their start-up You Lucky Bird.

Guido ten Hengel and Paul van der Hulst of You Lucky Bird

There are many turning coffee waste into valuable materials and products. You can use it in the garden to feed plants and to chase away snails, ants, and cats. Apparently, it also removes scratches from furniture, helps you clean pots and pans, fights bad odours in the refrigerator, and you can even use it for your body as an ingredient for soap, scrub, or facial creams. Across the world, enthusiastic pioneers, social and/or environmentally concerned entrepreneurs, and established commercial businesses try to valorise spent coffee grounds and turn them into consumables or durable products.

In 2019, Guido and Paul teamed up with Coffee Based to help them develop a range of coffee cups made from coffee grounds. Coffee Based creates bio-based materials and products based on coffee grounds. Their designers succeeded in developing a material that is dishwasher-proof, heat-resistant, and food-safe – the ideal material for making coffee cups. In collaboration, they came up with the ultimate product; The Lucky Cup. In the design, they took into account that the material lets through a nice warmth but won’t get too hot to hold. The special shape allows the coffee to develop a perfect crema. Besides that, the cups are easy to stack and their functional design prevents them from getting stuck together, which makes it also suitable for bars and restaurants. With their design, the team won the Horecava Innovation Award 2020 in the category Concepts, Interior & Design.

The cups are part of a circular system that benefits the entire chain: from coffee bean farmer to coffee seller to you. A part of the revenue of The Lucky Cup goes straight to the farmers, allowing them to grow even better coffee in the future. In addition, Guido and Paul use part of the price of the cup to invest in education projects in Ethiopia. And did you know coffee cups made of coffee grounds save 70% CO2 compared to ordinary paper coffee cups? And this one will last for years! When it’s ‘finished’, you can simply return it – Guido and Paul use it as raw materials for a new cup.

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Dymphie Braun
Programmamaker Creatieve Industrie & Head of Programme Designing Cities for All