S2E8 - Matt Keniston of Bio Bean - World's largest coffee grounds recycler

Matt Keniston is part of the team at Bio-Bean, an award-winning clean tech company that recycles used coffee grounds on an industrial scale. With sustainability at the heart of everything they do, Bio-Bean work with some of the biggest brands in the UK to produce an array of efficient and sustainable products from waste coffee.

Matt is responsible for partnerships with retail and industrial waste coffee grounds producers for inbound feedstock and managing outbound sales to large retailers and commercial solid fuel users. 

Highlights: 

  • Balancing inbound and outbound production 
  • The amazing array of properties in waste coffee and how these can be repurposed 
  • Creating a circular economy by inputting new products back into the industry 
  • Coffee logs as a carbon neutral alternative to burning regular logs 
  • The negative impacts of landfill sites and methane on our environment and how Bio-Bean is reducing this 
  • Bio-Bean’s time line from initial ideas to their current success 
  • Bio-Bean’s ability to release the full value of coffee, unlike other forms of recycling 
  • Matt’s lightbulb moment that inspired him to work towards Bio-Bean 
  • The future of Bio-Bean and promising development in the biochem department 
  • How to be mindful of sustainability yet aware that there is always room for improvement

 

    Transcript

    [0:08] Will: Welcome back to the Green Element Podcast, where we feature business leaders and innovators transforming their operations to be more environmentally and socially sustainable. I’m your host, Will Richardson and I can’t wait to meet our guest today and help you on your journey of sustainability. Matt, welcome to the Green Element podcast, thank you so much for joining us today. I don’t know where it is, the weather’s like where you are, it’s absolutely glorious sunshine, a great summer’s day here in Edinburgh. So, you work for Bio-bean, an award-winning clean technology company, first in the world to recycle used coffee grounds on an industrial scale. Wow, okay. Welcome to the podcast and I can’t wait to hear more.

    [0:54] Matt: Thank you, Will, I’m sorry to say it’s not as glorious as it is in Edinburgh, it’s raining, I’m talking to you from the edge of the fence, we’re in North Cambridge here, but we’re based on an old REF base and that’s where the Bio-bean magic happens. But yeah, it’s a bit dreary today.

    [1:13] Will: So, it’s this kind of smug feeling that you get if you live in Scotland when you know the South is just not as nice? I don’t know what it is. 

    [1:22] Matt: Should I say that out loud? It’s against nature, that’s what it is. The sun’s always shining in the south and it’s grim up north, so enjoy your smugness, it won’t last.

    [1:36] Will: How brilliant, thank you, just been knocked down of my birch. So, you’re the head of waste coffee recycling for Bio-bean? 

    [1:44] Matt: Yeah, amongst, as a startup, we all, I guess wear many hats. But my role in the company is I’m responsible for getting new business in, which means one side of the business, there’s the coffee waste, unlike most normal traditional businesses, you can go and buy your warm material, we have to kind of put in the supply chain to get our raw material. So, one of my roles is dealing with our waste coffee partners, anyone from the big retail chains to the big coffee shops, the service stations down to the sort of individual, little hipster coffee shops that can recycle their waste coffee by waste management companies. I deal with that kind of, anything sticky, waste coffee coming inbound to the factory. But then I also oversee product sales going out, so I handle the inbound and the outbound, interesting place to be because I can never win, there’s either too much coffee coming in and not enough products going out or there’s a requirement for too many products going out and we haven’t got enough coffee coming in so, it’s kind of seesaw in the middle. Yeah but that makes it all the more interesting.

    [2:54] Will: Yeah. But so, tell us more about what you, so you’re taking these used coffee grounds mills in from a variety of different sources, and what do you make them into?

    [3:05] Matt: There’s an amazing array of properties in waste coffee, when we think about waste coffee, especially coffee that comes from retail coffee ship machines, that the big chains, we’ve been to cut machines. I mean, that’s a competent, amazing resource. You know, it’s grown, it’s roasted, it’s been used, but we only really know, you know we run some hot water through it, you know, that releases some of the lovely flavors that we end up in a hot cup of Java. But a lot of those amazing compounds, the smells, the fragrances, the reasons we drink coffee in the first place is still prevalent in the waste, not in such great abundance. So, when we get the waste coffee into our factory, you know, there’s the smell, the fragrance is still there, there’s amazing sort of colorants in there, there’s nuttiness, there’s rustiness so we can actually distill those from the oils and from the coffee grounds, concentrate them and we’ve actually got a more material for our ingredients so it might be an ingredients in a food, in a cake mix, you could go back into the coffee world, it could go into cosmetics. So, that’s another sort of biochemist pieces really important to us. But it is a, coffee is still an amazing resource even as we’ve got our coffee. So, you’ve got the bio-chem side, you’ve also got lots of oil and coffee, but you’ve also got the solid biomass as well. And that solid biomass is an amazing fuel, so you could turn it into a pellet, which is for sort of industrial boilers. 

    [4:32] Matt: So, we’ve got people burning off pellets that were originally burning oil for heating oil to greenhouses over the winter, they’ll swap their boilers for biomass boilers, and now they’re able to burn our coffee pellets, which was your destined for landfill, but actually burn those coffee pellets in their biomass boilers and heat their greenhouses. Those greenhouses could be growing salad crop for the supermarkets. And actually, we collect a lot of waste coffee grounds from supermarkets. So, you’ve got this lovely kind of circular loop thing going on a circular economy piece, just with our coffee palette, we’ve also got a retail product, which is our coffee logs. So, anyway, you can burn a wood log, you can pretty much burn a coffee log. And we started selling those two seasons ago and we’ve gone from selling maybe sold 70 tons in the first year to 700 tons. I think last year, we sold about 250,000 units, that’s an eight-kilo bag, it’s a solid fuel. You know, people burn it predominantly in sort of, you know, eco-design stoves in their homes.

    [5:37] Will: And when they burn it, is the same amount of co2 let off as you’re burning a normal log? This may sound like a really stupid question.

    [5:47] Matt: It is that very misused term carbon neutral, but we are carbon neutral. If you imagine that coffee, you requested carbon from the atmosphere as it grew as it grew beans. So, you know, that plant sucked in carbon and when we turn it into a fuel, it releases that carbon back into the atmosphere. So, we’re not, you know, the problem being a fossil fuels taking up carbon, it’s been buried in the ground for millions and millions of years and releasing that and the atmosphere is bad. But actually, we’re all pellets.

    [6:21] Will: I can understand that. But I think you’re doing yourself a disservice because you would immediately relate that to anyone that burns that wood from their garden, for example, it’s exactly the same as what you’ve just said. But what is different between me cutting down a tree and burning it in my fire, is that that tree has already been used with for something else. So, it’s a byproduct, so I think you’re doing yourself a disservice by saying it

    [6:49] Matt:  Absolutely. And you know, if this coffee waste ends up going to landfill and you know that the conservative figure of how much coffee waste there is in the UK is about 250 sales, is a vast amount, you could feel the one level 10 times over that amount of coffee. If that was going to landfill and left unattended, anything that walks down on that release’s methane, methane is by far the worst greenhouse gas, we all know about co2, but methane is 28 times more lethal. So, actually, you know, by us taking it away from landfill, we’re actually saving a lot more co2 by burning it.

    [7:30] Will: Yeah. So, how was Bio-bean conceived and even centralized? What’s the story behind by then and how have you got to where you’ve got to?

    [7:42] Matt: It’s a great story, with founder of Bio-bean and he started, he was an architecture student. He was tasked, in the second year of looking at the coffee shop and making it more sustainable. Very bright lad realized there was all this coffee waste coming out. Thankfully, UCLA where you’re studying world class laboratories, to literally took a bag of waste coffee grounds into the lab game to the many white coats and said, what is in this? And they then said, you know, we’ve got oil, we’ve got the fragrance compounds and a carbon biomass. So, you know, already it’s an amazing resource, but an offer them some people together, got some minds around it and thought that, right, how do we do this? But as I said earlier, one card is going to Bali waste coffee grounds, you’ve really got to kind of disrupt the market a bit, you got to put yourself between the coffee shops and the landfill between the coffee shops and the anaerobic digesters and say, hey, this is the best way to recycle your coffee, but that takes time. 

    [8:46] Matt: So, 2013, I think our first product to market was a coffee log, and that was in 2016. So, that was the first product so it took a long time from the idea to actually have a first product and then to be at the scale we are now, where we’re processing thousands upon thousands of tons of your workforce, now I think about 38 people today. And if you imagine there’s an office staff, there is finance, marketing, this settles this feedstock in. But there’s also a factory where we’re running 24-hour shifts at the moment because we’re starting to build coffee logs for the winter season, that you’ve got a factory with forklift drivers, with engineers with, you know, it’s a big enterprise now.

    [9:37] Will: So, I’m just trying to work out what, so we’ve got the history of it, and where you’re going, and do you buy the coffee grounds of your companies or do they give them to you?

    [9:48] Matt: Typically, we are a commercially sound way of getting rid of your coffee grounds. Typically, if you’ve got a ton of coffee ground, and you need to get rid of them, where are you going to take it? Right, okay, so if you take that to the local dump, there’s going to be a charge for haulage, taking that ton from your factory or cold press or a coffee shop, to the local tip to the terrible landfill site and then they’re going to charge you 98 pounds 50, which is the landfill plus tax, which is people sending things to landfill. So, you know hundred pounds a ton plus haulage is what it’s going to cost you to dump coffee, you can dump coffee with us, and we don’t charge any game fee. So, as long as you have to cover the haulage, which should be a lot less than what you’re having to play it landfill, there is definitely a saving, I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s other things to do with coffee, your people compost it, people sending gesture, which is great, they’re great means, of good ways of recycling things like food waste, the problem with those technologies is they don’t release the value. 

    [10:52] Matt: So, if you send it to compost, it’s a much better way of dealing with waste coffee than going to landfill but you don’t get the chance to extract attract those really interesting compounds, and potentially reuse them. So, you’re missing out on a whole raft of opportunities by attending. We think we are that we are definitely a financially competitive way of disposing of coffee, but also, you know, we’re adding value. Because, you know, if we sell a flavored ingredient on our coffee grounds, that means that someone doesn’t have to go and buy a brand-new virgin, more material and extract that flavor from that material. So, we if you look at think about the sort of waste hierarchy, what we should be doing, you know, we should be reducing consumption to begin with, and that’s what Bio-bean does.

    [11:40] Will: Have you always been in the waste industry, or, like what got you into sustainability?

    [11:47] Matt: Personally, I just love waste, always have. I’ve always been very keen on sort of like the outdoors, I think you’d have to be really disconnected to enjoy that kind of life and not need to kind of understand the environmental issues, especially the ones we’re facing very plainly today. So, I retrained 10, 12 years ago, but I was living in the West Country then and it was kind of boom time for renewable energy. So, we were able to ride on the crest of, you know, subsidies for solar, for wind power, I came into this way of biomass. So, if you think we make a biomass pilot, I had a background in sort of industrial biomass boilers. So, that was my kind of connection in, you know, I didn’t imagine five years ago, or three years ago that I would be dealing with thousands of tons of coffee waste. Yes, I’m just a lucky guy.

    [12:45] Will: And have you always been interested in sustainability? Has it been a running theme in your life? Or what? What is there been a tipping point for you? What would you say is the reason that you are lucky guy?

    [12:56] Matt: Well, I think it was definitely, what crystallize it, was living in the west coast where it is so pure and beautiful. And I remember living in a cottage in the middle of nowhere, and the only way to heat my cottage was kerosene with heating oil, I remember just you know, every year, I’d have to bring up the man and hit delivering, you know, 600 liters of kerosene. And it just seemed really, really archaic, that we’re having to kind of, you know, suck this oil out of the ground and burn it and release all this carbon into the atmosphere. Just seems ridiculous. And you kind of I think, it’s you have these kind of light bulb moments, I remember just looking at, looking at the house, looking at the, you know, my bank account having just been hit 500 quid or whatever it was, and just thinking there must be a better ways. And that’s why I started looking into, you know, solar energy, wind energy and that’s how I got into the business.

    [13:51] Will: I love finding out why people are getting into sustainability. And everyone’s got their own different reasons and motivations as well.

    [13:59] Matt: Yeah, I think green. But I also think that corporations are now starting to understand that I see a real sea change at the moment really quite positive. That, you know, even two years ago, we were having conversations, conversations about commercial benefits, which is fine. You know, people need to make money, and it’s all about commerce, etc. But more recently, I’ve had conversations with some sort of leading sustainability, people embedded with these big multinationals who are much more interested in the sustainability story. Now, don’t get me wrong, that drives the bottom line, because their end consumers are driving this, you know, we need to look at our big corporations and say, you know, what are you doing with your, what do you do with your waste? What are you doing with your energy consumption? I think people are now prepared to sort of vote with their feet. You know, and if people don’t want to deal with companies that are involved in dubious activities, but I think corporations are sort of being forced to clean up their act. That’s great because it forces them to do the right thing, ultimately.

    [15:02] Will: Absolutely. Absolutely. Where do you see Bio-bean going in the future? How do you think you’re able to influence change?

    [15:10] Matt: I mean, the future’s bright for buyers, we’re in a really good place. And I’ve been here since we were definitely in startup sort of phase when I arrived. And we kind of feel that we’ve gone through our stroppy teenage years, and we’re coming out into something a bit more kind of mature, which is great, because it’s just a bit more settled, hopefully, will become, you know, the norm, that if you’re a business and be a coffee shop, or a big retailer, or a restaurant that you just go, and it’s a no brainer, you just go right, my cooking oil needs to go here, my food waste needs to go here, any food that, you know, I can actually put back into the food chain, you know, we need to share that with people as well. So, we become one of these kinds of 10 or 12, segregated resources, which just become, you know, the normal thing to do. And again, with firing UK, there’s masses of coffee we don’t get, we’ll take as much as we can get, and we will build our factory to accommodate it, because it’s such a precious resource that we can just keep on building it. And the solid fuel sides are great. There’s also you know, there’s lots of new avenues we’re exploring, and whether that is, you know, bioplastics, so the biochemistry side of it is really in its infancy, I see big growth in that, because we’ve got a whole floor laboratory, which we use it, and I go in there, and four or five people work from every single day, there’s bits of kit, I don’t know what they do, for me sitting on meetings, and people tell me what is in this and what we can use it for, and how we can segregate it, all done in a very environmentally friendly way because prior to us doing it, there’s lots of technique to extract your oil extracting compound, and lots of them are very heavy in using other chemical. 

    [16:56] Matt: So, we’re trying to pioneer processes that are very gentleman, by thing, that’s where the real growth is. But you know, our coffee pellets, you know, we’ve only really were sending two, three or four people at moment and there’s lots of people out there that could utilize our palates, and say, well, I’ll chop down a tree when you can actually make a pellet from food waste. And if you can stop that all going to landfill, all the better. So, yeah, the future’s bright and, you know, we’re thinking at the moment, but we’re more than thinking, we’re looking, we got some product landing in Europe in September, we want to test the market out there, a lot of coffee drunk in Europe, and a lot of coffee factories in Europe so sort of Northern Europe, Holland, Germany, we’ve got our sights on potentially doing a mainland European Bio-bean, so that’ll be exciting. So, yeah, there’s the watching space, there’s a lot going on.

    [17:49] Will: Brilliant. I’m going to have to ask you how your environmental management at Bio-bean goes, considering that’s what we do. But are you good at your own environment for management as an organization and what sort of, do you have your energy reductions in your factory? I’m assuming the answer is going to be yes, here.

    [18:07] Matt: The biggest one we’ve implemented, and it was so close to my heart, because when, as a startup factory, you don’t have the money to do all the environmental or even cost savings that you’d like to do. You still know the Catholics do it? Yeah. You know, when I arrived, we were still using, and this was a pilot stage quite quickly. But we were using fossil fuel to try our coffee. We needed to get to a stage where we proved the concept in the kind of pilot land. But as soon as we did that, it allowed us to raise funding, we’ve now got two-megawatt biomass boiler, which may not be very exciting to anybody listening. It’s very exciting to me. So, that actually now allows us to burn carbon neutral fuel to dry our waste coffee grounds, which is amazing.

    [18:53] Will: That’s brilliant.

    [18:55] Matt: There’s always, there’s more improvements. We’ve got LED lights, we’ve got you know, there’s a trauma stuff, we’re not perfect, we’re not quite past the factories stage, in a while yet, but you know, we’re absolutely mindful. We had a conversation this morning about our packaging for our coffee logs is recycle paper and it causes problems, because it doesn’t sit out in the rain very well with the other solid fuels, you know, should we change to plastic? No, absolutely not. Because we’re a sustainability company, we have to walk the talk.

    [19:26] Will: Yeah, I think that’s almost perfect in a way because to understand that you’ve still got stuff to do and to be physically or actively doing the reductions is a much better place than arrogantly saying that you have nothing else to do, is much better.

    [19:42] Matt: They’ll always be something you can do better.

    [19:44] Will: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I remember we’ve started working, say for our first companies 15 years ago, and I genuinely thought things were dry out. But those companies over, you know, 13, 15 years have changed, and they have reduced every year, year on year. It’s kind of weird. I still find it a bit weird to be honest with you, because but it’s all about reductions, isn’t it? If it’s 5%, 5% was bigger 15 years ago than it was now but it’s still 5%. Brilliant. Well, thank you so much for today, Matt. It’s been really interesting listening to you, talking about Bio-bean and what Bio-bean are doing. I know, we were chatting before this, I’ve seen it in a few of our client’s offices. So, I now know an awful lot more about what it is that you do and thank you for helping change the world and help the world become more sustainable.

    [20:39] Matt: And not at all. Well, pleasure talking to you. If any of your listeners want to get in touch with us, [email protected] gets you into the inbox. But we’re happy to talk to people about how we can get your waste coffee, if you’re an office in London, if you’re a cold pressed company with lots of waste, give us a shout and hopefully we’ll find a solution again. 

    [21:02] Will: That’s great and we’ll put all the LinkedIn and Facebook stuff and everything on the websites and uploaded the podcast. Thank you again, Matt.

    [21:12] Matt: All right, cheers, Will, thank you.
    [21:16] Will: Thank you so much for listening to the end of this episode of the Green Element podcast. Do take a moment and share this with your friends and colleagues’ rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. I’d love to know what has been your biggest takeaway from this conversation, what are you going to do differently? Please share your thoughts across social media and tag us so we can see them to at GE_podcast. For links and show notes for this episode, visit our website greenelement.co.uk/podcast. Thank you again. I hope you will join me on the next episode and together we can help create a better world.

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