The inclusion of natural ingredients in the production of beauty products and textiles has gained increasing awareness in recent years as an alternative to other methods of production that have been known to harm the environment. In keeping with this rising trend, Dutch innovation company Caffe Inc. has adopted an unconventional yet circular ingredient into its supply chain that is still relatively unknown to the beauty industry.
Spent coffee grounds have been known to come with beneficial qualities when used in care and cosmetics products, as well as building materials and 3D printing. Their potential has been emphasised by a new deal between Caffe and the Amsterdam Climate Energy Fund (ACEF) who, together, have struck a four million euro agreement to build a recycling plant for coffee waste in Amsterdam.
At the factory, Caffe will recycle coffee waste into coffee oil, coffee blocks and coffee colourants that each boast their own benefits and can contribute to a number of different industries. In an interview with FashionUnited, CEO Josephine Nijstad, who runs the company together with Evaluna Marquez, detailed Caffe’s plans to commercially scale the production process for its environmentally friendly product line, in the hope of bringing its circular alternative to other businesses.
“We make these materials available to other parties so that they can make end products,” explained Nijstad. “What we basically do is we unlock the ingredients and sell those business-to-business.”
The duo have worked on coffee ground experimentation since 2018, with this new venture allowing them to triple their production to process around 150 tonnes of coffee grounds a year. With the help of the capital investment, Caffe said it will be able to “save CO2 amounts equal to what 75,000 trees take up a year”, when the factory is fully operational, which should be in October 2023.
Why coffee grounds?
“Coffee is the fuel our society runs on,” said the company’s press release, however, only one percent of the coffee bean is used to make coffee, with the rest going to waste. To avoid the loss of these resources, Caffe steps in to process coffee grounds and produce natural products that can be used by the personal care industry.
Coffee oil extracted by the firm, for example, is often used in skin care, shampoos, handsoaps, sunscreen and cosmetics, boasting ingredients that have been proven to help stimulate blood circulation, act as an anti-inflammatory and improve skin elasticity.
“It’s a beautiful product that has a lot of active components most people don’t really know about,” said Nijstad, on coffee oil. Research done on the raw product has found benefits for hair and skin, such as anti-aging, UV protection and repair, as well as helpful ingredients like vitamin E and omega-3.
Meanwhile, Caffe’s coffee blocks, a cellulose rich material, come with different application opportunities. With a low oil concentration, the coffee blocks are able to work for everything from body scrubs to furniture panels and 3D-printed objects.
An additional way Caffe has expanded on for its use of the coffee bean is through natural textile dyes, which look to replace synthetic dyes. Although still in the R&D phase, Nijstad mentioned the company has already worked with the Dutch brand Bonne Suits on two-piece suits that utilise this natural method. The eco-friendly colourants can also be used for silk screen prints and colouring paper.
“When we scale up, we also intend to extend the colour extraction part of the process line, to really break down coffee to all its useful components,” Nijstad said.
The importance of logistics and scale
Caffe places a great deal of importance on its logistical partnerships. While it doesn’t have a collection system itself, Nijstad said they have struck agreements with local catering companies and waste collectors in the Netherlands, ensuring that a continuous supply of spent coffee grounds is readily available.
She continued: “We need to take care of a very good and efficient logistical system, where we set high standards, because the quality of the output is also determined by the quality of the input.”
Nijstad added that Caffe has plans to optimise its logistical processes while the funding will be further used to commercially scale, with a potential to take the concept abroad and replicate it for other markets.
“We can see that there are so many spent coffee grounds and so many small initiatives working with it, but if you really want to make an impact you still need to go for scale,” Nijstad noted. “Especially when you’re a waste processor. That’s why we’re looking for a lot of scalable solutions.”
Future plans and possibilities
When asked what Caffe’s future plans were, Nijstad said: “I hope to replicate the concepts abroad. For me, it’s very much a showcase of what can happen when we look differently at the resources that we have available. I really hope people can start looking at coffee grounds differently. Drinking coffee is just the first step of the life cycle.”
She continued: “As we drink coffee all around the world, there’s a lot of potential for not only upscaling size, but also having multiple similar plants.”
At present, Caffe has already been positively received by its home city of Amsterdam, which recognised its place in striving towards significant environmental impact and contributing to reducing CO2 emissions in the city.
In Caffe’s press release, a statement by Mariek van Doornick, deputy mayor of Amsterdam, read: “The creation of the coffee recycling plant of Caffe Inc. perfectly fits into the circular strategy of the City of Amsterdam. Initiatives like this assist the city in achieving its ambition to become one of the leading circular hubs in Europe.”
However, plans will not spread into a direct-to-consumer strategy, Nijstad said, as she noted that the company already looks into many different components in its solutions.
She added: “Everybody has a place in the ecosystem that we are working on and I think that our expertise is looking at a resource, seeing its potential and figuring out how to get it out. Others have a strength in deciding how to use it to make end products. I strongly believe in making collaborations and using each other’s expertise.”