Let's Talk Coffee


Jolly Rotten – Composting at Prima Roastery 

For over 10 years we have been providing our coffee to customers in New Zealand’s first compostable coffee packaging.

Back in 2011 there was no commercial processing available for compostable packaging, the bags were expensive and the plastic packaging waste conversation was yet to reach the mainstream. But our team thought it was important and someone had to go first.

The thinking was if we adopt the packaging, the manufacturer can keep making it, then more businesses will use it, then there will be an incentive for councils and waste management to start accepting it for processing, then it can be used to replace plastic across the wholefood and beverage supply chain. Simple, right? By 2017 there had been glimpses of progress with small independent groups like Cultivate Christchurch taking on composting of certified packaging and PLA based products(the single-use coffee cup) and WeCompost with Envirofert were making good progress in Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland on a more commercial scale. But here in Otautahi, there was a growing need for a fullscale sustainable end-of-life solution for compostable single-use products. We had compostable bags, cups and lids but they all still predominantly went straight to landfill. So we decided to muck in and get our hands dirty and started composting trials in a 3-bay system on our little farm in Leeston. It wasn’t at a scale to really solve the problem but it was a starting point. We learned about the process and the inherent challenges. We learned what works and what doesn’t. Having the hands-on experience meant we could open up conversations with so many knowledgeable groups across the country. We learned from and looked for opportunities through conversations with Envirofert, Total Waste Solutions, LivingEarth, WeCompost, Canterbury Landscape Supplies, Cultivate Christchurch, SIFT, Kilmarnock, Pines Resource Recovery Park, Roimata Food Commons, Christchurch City Council and Selwyn District Council. In 2018 we were finalists in the Sustainable Business Network Awards - Transforming Food Category for our work collecting and composting packaging waste. And then in 2019, we increased our capacity with the addition of a 2nd 3-bay compost system and a wood chipper to help us produce raw materials to improve our compost mix. For over a year we continued to take 2-5 120L bins per week of mixed food waste and packaging from our café partners - Foundation and Good Habit Cafes - as well as returned packaging from corporate and retail customers and coffee grounds from our own espresso bar. The vege garden was thriving!

By June 2019 we had accepted back for processing around 150 x 120L bins of mixed food and packaging waste which we estimate to be over 5 tonnes. This is small given the scale of the overall issue but we can attest it amounts to a lot of hard work lugging heavy bins and turning compost piles mostly by hand. And that might be the main lesson here – solving some of these waste issues isn’t going to be easy and so there is a lot of value in avoiding creating the waste to begin with. Reference back to the zero waste hierarchy. In the hope though of making it easier and scalable we had been looking for a great commercial partnership opportunity which would allow us to offer composting services to more of our customers and the wider public. In early 2021 this all came together after a visit to the new Canterbury Landscape Supplies forced aeration windrow compost site in Swannanoa and a meeting with Lee-Ann at Total Waste Solutions. We managed to find a solution with Tony at Canterbury Landscape Supplies agreeing to accept and process certified compostable packaging like our bags and the dreaded single-use PLA coffee cups. They have the scale and the proper facilities required to do this effectively. Next, Total Waste Solutions agreed to divert one greenwaste collection truck past our cafes for collection and then out to the Canterbury Landscape Supplies compost site per week. Lee-Ann needed 25 bins to make this work and we were able to sign up the first 7, with bins at 6 of our central city cafe partners and one at our roastery cafe. This gave Lee-Ann a starting point and from there she was able to go out to their wider customer base and quickly fill the rest of the truck!

Now with this service up and running our cafe partners are able to accept the return of compostable packaging or single-use cups in our custom collection bins. And we’ve been able to get 1064kg of packaging (and some food waste) composted between June 2021 and the end of our reporting period in Sept, 2021.In addition, this service is available from Total Waste Solutions to all those that want to make use of it in Otautahi, Christchurch. There are compost collection points popping up all over the city and by the end of 2021 there were a total of 55 bins with lots of likeminded cafes, businesses, communities, universities and more all collecting compostable packaging for processing. This is the kind of solution that can really help solve this problem. It’s provided the scale that makes it cost effective for us (we can provide the bins and collection as part of our coffee supply package for cafe partners) and distribution which makes it easy for people to use. Remember to bring your bags, cups and lids to any of the following locations and look for the blue collection bins: Foundation in Turanga, Good Habit, Frances Nation, Tom’s, Uprising, Utopia Ice Sumner & City or Prima Roastery.