With 95 million cups of coffee sipped every day in the UK, there’s a lot of used coffee grounds to deal with. As the coffee culture continues to surge, this number of cups and the spent grounds left are only going to increase.
What to do with all this used coffee? One answer is make coffee logs.
Reusing coffee grounds to make coffee logs offers another way of utilising what a lot of people consider a waste product. But where one sees waste, another sees value.
Why not recycle all of our americanos, espressos, flat whites and cappuccinos into something useful?
It seems like a great idea on paper but does this work in reality. Are coffee logs any good? Are coffee logs environmentally friendly? Let’s take a look.
What are coffee logs?
Coffee logs are a source of fire fuel made from recycled coffee grounds that can be burned in stoves to provide heat.
They are usually cylindrical in shape, compact and a bit smaller than your typical wood log. As well as coffee logs, used coffee grounds have also been made into biomass pellets.
You can now find coffee logs in supermarkets, DIY stores, garden centres and online.
The creators of coffee logs are bio-bean, a company founded in 2013 and based in Cambridgeshire. The first coffee log was launched in 2016.
Bio-bean are now the world’s largest recycler of coffee and are now a Certified B Corporation, showing without doubt that they are committed to sustainability.
All the coffee required to make coffee logs comes from used coffee grounds. These spent grounds are collected from various places across the UK, such as cafés, offices, airports, train stations and universities, and taken to a processing factory in the UK where they are dried.
It’s estimated that it takes the used grounds from around 25 cups of coffee to create one coffee log.
The used coffee grounds are mixed with Forest Stewardship Council sourced sawdust at a ratio of roughly 70:30 in favour of used coffee. The resulting biofuel coffee log is low in moisture (around 10%), which is perfect for burning in a stove.
Are coffee logs eco friendly?
Over the course of a year, the UK produces 500,000 tonnes of wet, used coffee grounds. At best, these grounds go into compost heaps, at worst they get dumped in landfill.
Coffee logs offer an alternative destination for used coffee grounds. This recycling and reusing of an existing resource is already ticking off two of the three R’s of sustainability. You might want to check out this blog on coffee bag recycling too.
Coffee logs are also a fully UK affair. All the used coffee collected comes from UK coffee shops and businesses and is then manufactured in a UK factory. With no importing or exporting, the carbon footprint of coffee logs is kept low.
Seeing value in waste to create a new product also means that other more carbon-intensive methods of creating fuel sources can be reduced – the third R of sustainability.
For these reasons alone, coffee logs make a good argument for being very environmentally friendly.
If the used coffee grounds weren’t collected from a variety of coffee-making places, it’s likely that a large amount end up in landfill. In landfill, the coffee grounds would eventually degrade and release methane into the atmosphere, a potent greenhouse gas.
The manufacturer of coffee logs, bio-bean, estimate that creating a coffee log reduces greenhouse gas emissions associated with landfill by around 80%.
The packaging that coffee logs come in is eco-friendly. This paper-based packaging is fully recyclable or it can be used as a fire starter in your stove.
When all is taken into account, coffee logs have to be considered a very sustainably, eco-friendly product.
My used coffee grounds generally end up in a composter. Read here about Cafedirect and their fantastic Machu Picchu organic coffee.
Can you use coffee logs in a wood burner?
Yes, coffee logs can be used in both multifuel and a wood burning stoves.
In fact, coffee logs are ideal for any type of burning stove that can be closed off. They’ll be relevant to the new Ecodesign ready regulations coming in from 2022 too.
Coffee logs can be burned on their own or used alongside wood logs in your stove. Because of there high energy value, coffee logs catch alight rapidly, making them great for getting your fire roaring.
Coffee logs are different in structure and the way the burn when compared to wooden logs and coal, which makes them not suitable for barbecues and open fires.
Are coffee logs any good?
Whether coffee logs are any good or not comes down to the individual and personal preference. Although they are a substitute for wood logs, they are different, and like anything new, may take a little while to get used to.
According to bio-bean, who are reliably informed from independent testing, coffee logs burn for 20% longer and at 20% hotter than dry wood. This is because used coffee grounds still have a lot of energy stored up inside them.
As mentioned, the structure and texture of coffee logs is different to wood. Even though coffee logs are a solid fuel source, they may crumble when in the fire, which means it’s best not to stoke it up too much.
Coffee logs also produce a fair amount of smoke when burned, which is why they are not recommended for open fires and barbecues.
How long does coffee logs burn for?
Coffee logs will burn for around 45 minutes to an hour in a multi-fuel stove or wood burner.
According to the manufacturer, pound for pound a coffee log will burn for 20% longer than dry wood, although some users have disputed this.
Optimising the burn time may also come down to individual appliances and how well the air flow is managed.
Because coffee logs pump out a lot of heat, it’s recommended not to use more than three logs or briquettes at a time.
Are coffee logs smokeless?
No, coffee logs are not a smokeless fuel source.
Coffee log users have said that the logs produce more smoke than a standard kiln dried wood log but not as much smoke as a log that has too much moisture in.
The smoke can cause a couple of issues, particularly if you live in a smoke control area.
Coffee logs are not on Defra’s approved list of smokeless fuels. In turn this means that coffee logs cannot legally be burned if you live in a smoke control area.
A smoke control area is one where you cannot emit smoke from a chimney unless you are burning an authorised fuel, of which coffee logs are not.
There is a contradiction here from an environmental point of view as many smokeless fuels are actually very carbon heavy sources, such as coal and paraffin-derived fuels.
However, wood is not an authorised fuel either because it too produces smoke. This means that in smoke control areas, wood can only be burned on a Defra-approved log burner (also called exempt appliance).
For example, my local authority is in a smoke control area, so I can’t burn coffee logs and can only burn wood on a Defra-approved stove. From January 2022, all wood burning stoves will have to be Ecodesign compliant.
The difference with coffee logs is that they’re not yet on Defra’s radar to test on appliances as part of their standard fuels. This means that bio-bean would have to apply to have their coffee logs tested on every single individual make and model for it to be allowed to be burned on exempt appliances. According to bio-bean they are currently in talks with Defra to get non-wood based biomass set up for testing.
All that said, if you don’t live in a smoke control area you don’t need to worry and you can use coffee logs on your stoves and wood burners.
Smoke control areas is all to do with the Clean Air Act. If you’re not sure what area you live in, contact your local council or take a look at this list.
Do coffee logs smell like coffee?
Sad to say for all of you coffee lovers, but no, coffee logs do not smell of coffee.
It’s possible to get a faint aroma of coffee from the logs when in their packaging and before they are burned, but this is nothing substantial. This may be welcomed for those of you who aren’t coffee fans!
When coffee logs are put onto the fire, the burn smell is similar to that of dry wood.
Coffee log wrap up
Aside from going into compost piles or heading to an industrial compost facility, coffee grounds are a vastly underused resource. This is especially true considering just how much ground coffee is now used (and drank) in the UK – a phenomenal amount!
Creating coffee logs from used coffee grounds is highly sustainable and environmentally friendly as you’re creating value from waste. It also helps reduce the carbon footprint associated with other carbon intensive fuel products that are traditional burned.
Coffee logs are made in the UK from UK-sourced waste coffee. As many fire burning logs are imported en masse to the UK, this also helps reduce the carbon footprint.
There may be a little work to be done in regards to getting coffee logs Defra-approved from a smoke perspective, but all in all coffee logs are environmentally friendly, sustainable and a good way forward for the future eco-friendly living.