In practice: Network Rail’s closed-loop partnership to recycle waste coffee grounds

Striking a partnership with coffee waste collectors Bio-Bean enabled Network Rail to make steps in reducing waste at its station, and also got retailers and staff to boost coffee collection to be used for renewable power.

The Challenge

Like most organisations, Network Rail is attempting to improve its environmental impact by reducing the amount of waste it produces, and the amount that is sent to landfill. However, attempts to recycle waste, especially amounts relating to food and drink, were being hindered by contamination and a lack of understanding of separating recycling.

Network Rail also identified that sending this potentially avoidable waste to landfill was adding costs to the company, and therefore the taxpayer. Eventually the company decided to explore potential solutions and identified the 41.7 million cups of coffee sold annually at key stations as a starting point to implement solutions and promote the circular economy.

The solution

In early 2014, Network Rail reached out to innovative coffee waste collectors Bio-Bean. These discussion eventually led to a trial run of a coffee waste collection scheme, trialed at the Victoria and Waterloo raid stations in 2015.

Bio-Bean provided dedicated collection skips, capable of holding four tonnes of coffee grounds, to be placed at the stations. Retailers were then asked to discard all waste coffee grounds into these skips to be collected by Bio-Bean.

Network Rail found that these stations were disposing around eight tonnes of coffee grounds a month. Whereas before they were being sent to landfill, the coffee was now collected by Bio-Bean to be transformed into biomass pellets to power homes.

Because of the success of the trial, Network Rail has since expanded the initiative across nine stations. Inductions and training sessions were provided to show retail workers that the new regime wouldn’t add any complexity to their current jobs.

Companies that took part in inductions included Costa and Starbucks, but Network Rail also enrolled food outlets such as McDonald’s, Itsu and Burger King’s retail property consults FSP.

Network Rail staff members were also encouraged to endorse the scheme and the company notes that Kieran Winder, station operations manager, Dave Bateson, station operations specialist, Cem Davis, station operations manager and Jackie Priest, shift station manager all deserve high praise for championing the initiative.

The results

To date, 868 tonnes of coffee has been collected through the initiative to be transformed into biomass pellets. Figures from Bio-Bean suggest that the pellets have created enough energy to power 1,266 three-bedroom homes for a year.

The coffee collected through the partnership has created an emissions reduction of 6,079 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. The nine stations involved in the collection partnership have sold 41.7 million cups of coffee since the scheme was introduced.

The cost savings

Before the Bio-Bean partnership was introduced, Network Rail was paying £130 for the collection of one tonne of general waste. In comparison, it costs £90 per tonne for the coffee collection. In total, Network Rail has saved £34,000 on waste disposal costs since the initiative was introduced. Costs, if there were any, for the skip installations have not been disclosed.

Looking ahead

Network Rail is exploring ways to roll the initiative out across all managed stations, although this does introduce some logistical issues. The organisation is currently discussing transportation options with Bio-Bean for stations that do not have a Bio-Bean facility nearby. Network Rail doesn’t want to negate the carbon reductions by making collection journeys longer.

Currently there are no plans for Network Rail to use the pellets for its own operations. Instead, Network Rail is focusing its efforts to reduce food waste and is also focusing on coffee cup recycling. The organisation originally took part the Square Mile challenge organised by charity Hubbub.

The Square Mile challenge placed designated bins for coffee cup collection onto certain streets and stations. However, Network Rail has strict security regulations regarding the size and transparency of bins – to ensure that no security threats can be placed into the bins – and efforts to ramp up involvement have been restricted as a result. Network Rail will continue to work with the Government to overcome this barrier while ensuring the safety of the station.

Information provided by Network Rail’s head of retail Daniel Charles

Matt Mace

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