Let’s think about a cup of coffee. Did you know that to make it a mere 0.2% of the product is used? The trashcan is the sad end of the remaining 99.8%. During its decomposition on dumps, the coffee grounds generate millions of tons of methane gas, which is very bad news for the ozone layer. Although highly contaminating they are also a source rich in nutrients susceptible to continuing the cycle as food for other living beings, which in turn, convert them into organic matter.
Well now, let’s think about the main decomposers of organic matter, i.e. fungi. According to Iberfunghi “coffee grounds are rich in antioxidants and other useful substances which mushrooms can use to grow, by degrading the caffeine present in them and eliminating a large of the toxicity of this waste”. This company located in Morés (Aragon) manages coffee and its waste undertaking a small yet great revolution: “Even today, legislation in our country considers coffee grounds common organic waste, so they finish their cycle of use in general dumps, emitting greenhouse effect gases on degradation and polluting our waters as they filter. Our project arose to prevent this, because we reuse the coffee grounds we collect from bars and cafeterias in the area to manufacture a substrate apt for growing mushrooms. Thanks to the metabolism of fungi, we eliminate the pollutant gas from the environment, which use to contaminate our soil, and as a result receive 2 products, one rich in proteins to add to our diet and the other an excellent compost for our plants”, according to the founders.
Physics, chemistry and biology transform the waste generated into a job opportunity and innovation. These entrepreneurs claim the key lies in seeking solutions inspired by the natural functioning of ecosystems. It was this premise which led to the materialization of their project, and they most definitely got off on the right foot, because with them there are over 3000 people worldwide who have turned the management of coffee grounds into a business. Some estimations say that in 10 or 20 years’ time there will be over a million companies producing fungi using this kind of waste product.
“Initiatives are seeing the light which was unthinkable awhile back. While classic traditional industry strives to survive, circular economy is producing irreversible changes”.
The irruption of this new model responds to the need to put a stop to the predatory growth model, which has dominated since the Industrial Revolution based on the linear diagram of produce, use and throw. Moreover, its equation is straightforward, i.e. copy nature’s processes and translate them to economy.
“Economy is like nature. On the trophic chain, each link of the biological commuter feeds on the previous and in turns becomes food for the next. There is no waste concept. All waste is a resource. A vicious circle where life provides conditions to create more life”, explains Rafael Aparicio, an industrial engineer and CEO of Biomival. This company commercializes turbines whose design imitates the beak of the red flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) to obtain energy from seawaves. This expert states: “There are hundreds of examples like this”.
Buildings inspired in the bicolor of zebras to regulate temperature without using air conditions, chemical component free Velcro based on lizards’ adhesion mechanisms, fog water catchers which replicate desert beetle shells, domestic appliances whose mechanisms imitate beehives to minimize use of energy or solar panels which reproduce the photosynthesis of leaves. Aparicio commented: “We should bear in mind nature’s dynamics when planning our entire cities”.
Should the transition from a linear economic model to circular one be applied, 160,000 new jobs could be generated in Spain until 2020, according to the European Commission’s data, which calculates that up to 3 million jobs could be created worldwide during the same period. Aparicio concludes: “Man is highly resistant to change. Circular economy should be a State strategy. As a country, we have only one option, i.e. to jump on the bandwagon”.