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Coffee waste to fuel a circular economy

CHIPPENDALE: Every year, Australians brew billions of cups of coffee, resulting in waste that ends up in landfill, but one social enterprise based in Chippendale is working to change that.

Kua, a not-for-profit company, recycles spent coffee grounds, the leftovers from when a coffee bean is ground and discarded.

Founded by two engineering students, Darcy Small and Brody Smith, Kua adopts a sharing and lending model.

It delivers specialty Ugandan-grown coffee beans in reusable cannisters to companies in Sydney, who collect their spent coffee grounds into the cannisters and return them to Kua. This is then distributed to local community gardens.

Spent coffee grounds can be used to create many products, including body scrubs, substrate to grow mushrooms, air fresheners and even coffee cups.

Mr Small and Mr Smith have always had a big interest in sustainability. When they launched Kua in 2019, this was at the forefront of their plans.

“If you offer an entirely sustainable solution to begin with, it’s easier for people to engage, rather than starting with compostable packaging and try to then introduce reusables,” Mr Small said.

Moving towards a zero-waste society is important, according to Mr Small, because consumers have become “completely disconnected” from the environmental impact of their consumptions.

“When you put something in the bin, you don’t see where it ends up. When you buy something from the supermarket, you’ve got no ability to conceptualise the carbon emissions or where it came from, and I think that disconnect is what allows big environmental problems to keep getting worse,” he said.

“Zero waste is a really easy way for people to quantify their impact, and if we can move towards zero waste, then we’re going to be able to consume in a way that doesn’t harm our natural ecosystems and contribute to climate change.”

Kua also donates 100 per cent of its profits to farmers in Uganda to help build resilience to climate change into their farms.

Through partnering with ECOTRUST, farmers can plant native trees to sequester carbon and build terraced waterways.

Kua is currently looking to run a series of workshops on composting to help its consumers close the loop on their own waste.

It is also working on its measurement and reporting, with the goal of digitally logging every customer’s impact, such as the number of cannisters they have used.


Workplaces can make a genuine commitment to corporate social responsibility by joining forces with Kua. Check out its zero waste in-office service providing roasted coffee fortnightly and immersive sustainability workshops with virtual reality tours of Uganda. Individuals can also purchase the “world-positive” coffee beans for home.

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