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13 Feb 13

Fertile Grounds: Repurposing Leftover Coffee

By Elizabeth Gowing

One of Kosovo’s greatest natural resources has got to be its coffee. It may not be grown here, but the way it’s served here is second to none.

When a British friend came to visit me here last year she ordered a macchiato in a Pristina cafe and on her first sip she burst into tears.

“What’s the matter? Is it not good?” I asked. Between sobs she stammered out, “Yes, it’s just sooo good.’”

She was the only one crying about it, but of course not the only one in the cafe drinking. I can’t begin to calculate the quantity of used coffee grounds that must be thrown away here each day, but here are some suggestions for what to do with the waste.

Gardeners may already be familiar with the uses of coffee as a fertilizer. The grounds can be used directly either on the garden or on potted houseplants. This I’ve tried, though I’ve been told you can also use weak coffee as a liquid fertilizer, which I can’t vouch for.

Of course the grounds can also be added to compost, with all the advantages of aerobic decomposition, not producing methane, not going to landfill, and after a time being part of something that can enrich your garden’s soil. Alternatively, coffee grounds will deter slugs and snails if they’re spread around plants.

Right now it’s not really the season for gardening, though, so how about sitting warmly inside instead – toasting yourself by a roaring… coffee fire! Java Log is a brand of ‘log’ made from coffee grounds. The logs apparently crackle like firewood, burn brighter than wood and don’t have any smell of coffee as they roast.

Now that I’m the proud owner of a wood-burning stove in our little home in Pejton, I’m interested in ideas like this, and since Java logs are not currently available in Kosovo — only in North America — I’m hoping that some enterprising makiatoxhi will start producing these here soon.

Or perhaps Kosovo could rival Taiwan in a new technology producing clothes out of old coffee grounds. The Singtex company has, like Rapunzel, developed a way of spinning coffee into threads that are then woven to make t-shirts. If we can get this going here, I’ve even worked out the trade name – the MakiaTee. It’s going to be a big hit.

If you don’t believe me, you can use your coffee grounds for the final purpose for which they’re recycled here – telling people’s fortune. Where in Britain it’s tealeaves that are read, in Kosovar tasseography requires you to drink your Turkish coffee - from one side of the cup only, and then use the pattern of the grounds to tell the future. I see a t-shirt, a burning log, a thriving garden… a happier planet?

So now there’s an environmental imperative to your coffee drinking. Do more of it – but make sure you don’t throw the grounds away. If you have a garden, ask your local cafe whether they’ll let you have the grounds they would otherwise throw away. And if you have a sense of entrepreneurship, let’s see you rise to the challenge of the MakiaTee and the Kosovan version of a Java Log.

Elizabeth Gowing is a founder of The Ideas Partnership, a Kosovan NGO working on educational, cultural and environmental projects. She is also the author of “Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo” (Signal Books, 2011). She can be reached on theideaspartnership@ gmail.com

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