95 million. That’s an estimate on the average number of cups of coffee the UK consumes every day. That amounts to a lot of waste, but biotechnology company bio-bean has found a solution to the problem.
Here, Bio Insight Markets’ Liz Gyekye caught up with George May, Director and Chief Commercial Officer at bio-bean (@biobean).
Liz Gyekye (LG): What’s the story behind bio-bean?
George May (GM): Six years ago the founder of bio-bean was struck by the volume of used coffee grounds going to waste and found research supporting his theory that the used grounds contain oil and could therefore be used to produce a highly calorific fuel. He went on to build a team and develop coffee-derived biomass pellets and from there, bio-bean was born.
What started as a good idea is now the UK’s largest recycler of coffee grounds. We’re an award-winning team of 35 working with some of the biggest companies in the country to transform coffee waste into value at an industrial scale.
LG: What markets do you cater for?
GM: We aim to extract the greatest value, in the widest sense, from spent coffee grounds as a sustainable resource, recycling the grounds into a broad spectrum of efficient, sustainable bio-based products for a range of markets, both consumer and industrial. From our consumer retail brand of home fire logs, Coffee Logs, to our natural flavour extract for use in the food and beverage industry, and from coffee biomass pellets for industrial/commercial boilers to dried, spent grounds for use as a raw material in bio-based applications, we specialise in sustainably innovating through coffee waste.
LG: What were you doing before you took up this role?
GM: Life before bio-bean was that of a corporate project finance lawyer in the city, albeit one who focused on renewable energy (solar, wind and energy from waste). I have always had an interest, both personal and professional, in sustainability, the circular economy and resource valorisation. So when I was looking to move away from Law to a smaller, sustainability-focused business where I could take on a more involved role, I came across bio-bean and it seemed to be the perfect opportunity. That was 5 years ago!
LG: What advice would you give to somebody looking to get involved in this sector?
GM: The green/circular economy/sustainability/impact sector is one that is still relatively young in many ways and so it is growing at an incredible rate as people and business realise that the climate crisis requires innovative and immediate action. Because of this there are a wealth of potential career paths in the sector that people can look to explore – whether in traditional vocations such as law or accountancy or as an entrepreneur striking out on your own. Big business also offers great opportunity in this sector and it is, I believe, the role of business to drive change rather than rely on legislation. So, understand what really motivates you and you’ll find a role that fits – there are opportunities out there now that didn’t exist even 2, 3, 5 years ago.
LG: What is on your agenda for 2020?
GM: 2020 is shaping up to be an exciting year for bio-bean! Off the back of a successful fundraise in 2019 we are looking forward to growing the business further, both in the UK and overseas with plans developing for a European manufacturing plant and to bringing new products to market – predominantly for flavour and fragrance and bio-based raw material applications. So, watch this space…
LG: Do you think governments should be doing more to help divert waste from landfill?
GM: Absolutely, yes. There is ever-decreasing rationale for the mass use of landfill for waste disposal. However, it is not as simple as just outlawing landfill. The whole framework and environment around waste and resource needs to be better supported by government. I would suggest that there is a greater need for government policies to be flexible and agile in response to the urgent nature of our climate crisis, to allow for more rapid scaling of sustainable innovation. Removing obstacles to scaling up innovation, albeit in a structured and controlled way, will have the desired effect of driving down landfill usage and increasing ‘waste’ valorisation.
LG: What are you going to be discussing at WBM 2020?
GM: I’ll be focusing on extracting value from a waste stream, with my presentation seeking to highlight the range of opportunities that, in our case, spent coffee grounds offer and our journey to valorise these within a circular economy model.
LG: What’s your favourite sustainability product?
GM: Given the nature of what we do I greatly admire anyone seeking to reduce food waste. The likes of Toast Ale and Rubies in the Rubble have done a fantastic job in highlighting – in a very public and tangible way – what can be done to reduce food waste. We recently hosted a Circular Economy Club event at which we were fortunate enough to have Lucy Hughes speaking. Lucy’s MarinaTex is absolutely one of my favourite sustainability products – taking fish waste from industry and combining it with algae to create a bioplastic alternative. It is a scalable solution and as with our ethos, in order to drive true sustainable change innovation must be at scale.
George May will be speaking at the World Bio Markets Conference, the leading assembly for the bio-based economy, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The conference takes place from 23-25th March.