Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 4.17.08



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High-Octane Compost
By Deanna Uutela

On this Earth Day when you make your run to your favorite coffee shop to get your java fix before your big day of planting trees, stop and think about where the coffee grounds for that latte are going to end up. In Lane County alone, coffee shops produce over 500 tons of coffee grounds a year, most of which gets dumped into landfills. But compost specialists at OSU Extension Service have found a way to keep the grounds out of the landfill and provide local gardeners and farmers with a free alternative to manure.

The OSU folks have been experimenting with the use of coffee grounds in compost since 2004. Starting out with 32-gallon containers, compost specialists collected grounds from various coffee shops around town, which they used in their own gardens. After multiple trial runs, the team found that mixing coffee grounds in with the compost helps to sustain high temperatures in the compost piles, which is needed in order to kill potentially dangerous pathogens as well as seeds from weeds and vegetables that were added to the piles.

“We found that using the coffee grounds was actually more effective at keeping the temperature high in the compost than using chicken manure,” explains Cindy Wise, the coordinator for Extension’s Compost Specialist program in Lane County.

Having had success with their initial trials, the team is ready to bring it to the public. According to Peter Thurston, who helped lead the Coffee Grounds Committee, the team has surveyed around 40 out of 100 coffee shops around Eugene and Springfield to see which ones would be willing to let the public bring buckets and pick up unused grounds. It is still too early to know which ones will participate, but Thurston believes the Extension Service should be able to have a compiled list of participating shops by May or June. The Extension in Lane County will then publish the list on its website and in a brochure.

“Our objective is to get the grounds out of the coffee shops and have the community use them in their gardens,” says Thurston. “Initially we hope to provide 5-gallon buckets for the people who want to participate until they are able to get their own. We are still testing everything out, but it is going well.”

Besides benefiting gardens and farms all around Lane County, keeping grounds out of the landfill is just another step in reducing waste, according to Wise. “Organics in our landfill is a big problem because when they decompose they produce methane, which is a greenhouse gas that gets emitted into our atmosphere.”

Thurston also recommends that those of you who are home brewers seek out a good place for your grounds to go as well. At the EW, a member of the editorial staff takes to a home compost system all of the grounds from our special journalist fuel blend, for instance.

Though the program won’t be quite ready for this year’s Earth Day, for now, get your garden ready for some much needed TLC, and this time next year helping the environment will be as easy as visiting your local coffee shop.