Next stop: the moon

Published: 13 April 2023
A person holding ground coffee.

From dragging wheelie bins full of coffee to community gardens to recycling soft plastics and running waste consultancy projects: Reground has achieved a lot since their humble beginnings in 2017.

The Melbourne-based social enterprise started when founder Ninna Larsen was working as a barista and was dismayed when she realised the coffee grounds weren’t being recycled.

As a Denmark native, the concept of landfill was completely foreign to her.

Australia produces an estimated 75,000 tonnes ground coffee waste every year. The majority of this resource is sent to landfill where it contributes to climate change through the production of methane gas.

It was obvious to Larsen that instead of taking the coffee grounds to the tip, this valuable resource should be returned to the earth as garden compost.

A natural fertiliser, ground coffee improves the water retention and temperature of soil while also keeping pests and weeds away.

Reground managing director Megan Mabin said they now have a waiting list of cafés eager to do the right thing with their coffee waste, donating it to community gardens and local green thumbs.

Home gardener Stuart

“In the early days, we had to approach cafés because it was a pretty bizarre concept,” Mabin said.

“But now people want us to be in Sydney and Brisbane and Adelaide. They come to us because they can see that their coffee is going to landfill and they want to give back to their communities.

“Since we’re a social enterprise, we’re comparable to general waste fees because we also want this resource to be recovered at the end of the day.”

Mabin said Reground’s move to soft plastic recycling came naturally, with many of their initial café clients generating a lot of plastic waste.

“Our wait list for soft plastic is four times the size of our wait list for coffee,” Mabin said.

“We work with a local Victorian recycler, APR Plastics, who currently process their soft plastic offshore.

“They’re now testing new technology here in Australia that turns plastic into oil. This can then be used to create more plastic and at the end of that plastic’s life, it goes back into the circle and gets turned into oil again."
Megan Mabin, Reground Managing Director

“The idea is that it goes around and around, creating the circular economy.”

Reground’s tiny team of just 6 was acknowledged as a finalist at the 2022 Premier’s Sustainability Awards for circular economy innovation.

After moving mountains in Melbourne, Reground now has country Victoria in its sights, thanks to funding from Sustainability Victoria.

A grant under the Recycling Victoria Community Fund has enabled Reground to expand to Geelong, adding another team member and new vehicle in the process. The funding has also improved the technology they use to capture data and insights, boosting their capacity to report on their impact.

In addition to Geelong, Reground is preparing to open five regional hubs to divert coffee and soft plastic from landfill across the state.

“We’re going to partner with other social enterprises in those areas and we’ll essentially be handing over our way of operating so they can run Remote Reground in their own communities.”
Megan Mabin

“We’ll be their support and they’ll work with our operational software and materials, but they’ll keep the profits.

“So that’s another way to give back to the community in those areas.”

Not content with state-wide expansion, Reground is now looking at ways to amplify their influence, considering what their business model would look like on a national level.

“How do we grow our impact even more?” Mabin asked.

“Does that look like clothing collections? Does that look like upskilling other individuals and business in circular economy approaches so they’re driven by impact rather than just profit?

“We’ve got the moon on our horizon now.”