Small Cafe Vermicomposting

This post was inspired by a question from a reader, but I’m including it in the “General Questions’ section since I’m not going to post the question. Truth be told I am partially trying to get in touch with the person who wrote in – unfortunately I received an email bounce when I tried to reply (this is definitely one of my pet peeves, since I hate to have people thinking I can’t be bothered replying!).

OK – so Diana, if you are out there…please contact me again with a different email address!

What Diana was basically wondering about was whether or not I was familiar with any cases of a small cafe or coffee shop that had incorporated vermicomposting into their business.

Unfortunately, I am not familiar with anyone doing this (or at least, I can’t remember – haha), but I’m hopeful that by posting it here, one of our readers WILL know of an example of this being done and be able to chime in.

Of course, I do think this is a great idea! In all honesty, I think every restaurant and cafe should have their own vermicomposting system (ok, so perhaps I am a tad biased here – haha).

As many of you may remember, last summer I attempted to process (via vermicomposting) the compostable waste from a popular local restaurant (see Restaurant Food Waste Vermicomposting), but had to end the partnership after a few months since there was simply too much waste to deal with. So I am at least somewhat familiar with this sort of project – but not from perspective of an actual business owner. There are definitely advantages to being someone trying to incorporate this into your own business – you will have intimate knowledge re: the amount of waste you produce, the general logistics of your operation, what exactly you are trying to accomplish, and much time/money you are willing to spend.

When simply collecting wastes from another business, it is really important to make sure that you and the business owner are on the same page with the game plan. I made the mistake of getting caught up in their enthusiasm and biting off more than I could chew.

Speaking of which, regardless of what side of the equation you happen to be on, I would definitely recommend starting off slowly. It will be important to determine how readily composting worms will consume the wastes you are producing/collecting, how quickly they are going to consume them, and how best to handle these materials before feeding them. Start with a small ‘pilot project’ – maybe even only with 1 or 2 regular worm bins. You can always expand from there. Cutting back once totally committed on the other hand, can be a bit more of a challenge (and can be a potentially costly mistake if you are the business owner).

I think cafes and coffee shops in some ways are better suited for this sort of project than larger restaurants, since coffee grounds and tea bags (your main waste materials I would imagine) are a lot easier to deal with than rotting food waste. They can be used in a wide variety of ways (mulches etc) since they look and smell nice – so having too much for your system(s) shouldn’t pose nearly as much of a problem as I encountered.

As I’ve discovered recently, coffee grounds can however be a bit of a challenge in a vermicomposting system. They can cause a system to heat up quite quickly if a fair amount is added at once. They also seem to be difficult to keep moist in a system that receives good air flow. As I wrote in another blog post, they are not all created equal either – some of the specialty blends or more finely ground…uhhh…grounds (haha) might not be as appealing for the worms.

Anyway, bottom-line I think there is a lot of potential here. Aside from reducing wastes (and perhaps disposal costs) this is a great way to promote the business. ‘Green’ is the new trendy thing, so marketing your ‘Green Cafe’ should be quite easy to do (local papers would likely want to write articles about you, vermicomposting bloggers might want to write blog posts about you – wink wink!)

Hope this helps, Diana – and perhaps more importantly, I hope it reaches you!

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    • Duff in VT
    • May 14, 2009

    I am fairly new to this and have lots of coffee grounds… that my worms seem to detest. Why? They are not the flavored kind, just regular brew. I have even put them in my worm-laden garden. The worms avoid them totally, living in bliss in nearby corrugated cardboad. I have offers of lots more grounds from friends, but would only use them as mulch at this point. I’d love any tips from those whose worms enjoy the grounds ! What do you do to the grounds to make them acceptable to the worms?

    • Travis
    • May 14, 2009

    Well, I knew of a restaurant here in Tucson that used composting to compliment its own garden (it was a vegan/gypsy gig – pretty crazy experience) but I don’t know if they used worms. +1 for composting though.

    • Jacques
    • May 16, 2009

    Don’t know about any businesses in your area, but here in South Africa there is one that I know of. You even reported on it once on your site

    The Lord Nelson hotel in Cape Town.

    • kathy
    • May 24, 2009

    Here in Louisville, KY, a local chain of coffee shops, Heine Brothers, worm composts their grounds.

  1. Diana,

    I feed my worms a lot of coffee grounds but it will be awhile before I can rival the vermicomposting going on at the Dunkin Donuts in St. Petersburg, FL. They have 80 lbs of worms in the parking lot that process coffee grounds.

    Read the article on ( that explains all the details. The article includes a picture of the patented industrial sized worm bin.

  2. Hi there: PLEASE COMMENT IF YOU HAVE FACTS, THEORIES, HUNCHES OR WILD GUESSES! I am re-reading many posts now that I have several months under my belt (and without calculating now some 750grams of worms, having started from about 30grams!).

    I have used substantial coffee grounds in my food recipe (recently some 30% of volume and 10% of weight, but recently I have been getting an inkling that PERHAPS I need to re-think it a bit.

    a) I like strong coffee, eg lots of grounds not very “diluted” if they go straight form filter to wormfood mix. I have been thinking, what would be the Caffeine etc load for my workers when I “water” my bin

    b) Coffee is a “home remedy” for unhappy gardenia flowers, specifically due to the acid it adds to soil. My gardenias were happy, but I read lots on internet that worms and acid are a bad combo.

    c)Coffee, being “dark” may have been leading me to believe my compost was “finished” before it really was.

    d) I have recently noticed an apparent decline in the fecundity of my worms (NOTE: they are getting bigger, but not as many cocoons as I ONCE had). It MAY be the coffee, but I am putting more money on that I may have accidentally added lots of Carbon one time (in the form of sawdust) and coupled with some climate factors enjoyed a burst of cocoons.

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