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Coffee Planet using its waste to help turn desert into fertile soil

food waste turned into compost Supplied
The Waste Lab uses UAE food waste as compost to turn desert soil into arable land
  • Producing 300 tonnes of coffee a month is circular waste opportunity
  • Food waste can replace some compost imports
  • One UAE initiative aims to halve food waste by 2050

A partnership between Dubai-based coffee shop company Coffee Planet and sustainability startup The Waste Lab is helping to turn parts of the desert into arable soil.

Desert soil is not completely unusable, but it lacks the organic matter needed to grow crops or vegetation.

Coffee shops, meanwhile, have an abundance of organic matter, in the form of leftover coffee grounds, that would normally go to waste.

Some 3.37 million tonnes of food waste goes to landfill every year in the UAE, but the country imports 80 percent of its compost.

This is where The Waste Lab steps in. The Dubai startup offers composting services, using some of the country’s sizeable annual food waste to turn its desert soil into arable, usable soil.

Meanwhile, Coffee Planet’s managing director Jamie Brown has plans to expand the chain from five to up to eight locations across the city. 

And, as Brown explained, as Coffee Planet gets bigger, its volumes of coffee are getting bigger, and thus so is the amount of coffee grounds it needs to dispose of. Enter The Waste Lab.

At present Coffee Planet is trialling The Waste Lab to reuse coffee grounds just from its head office. Brown said it would begin recycling the leftover grounds from Coffee Planet’s five coffee shops soon.

“You can already see the potential for impact as this scales up,” he said – but he added that scaling up does present a logistical challenge, as “we produce close to 300 tonnes of coffee a month”.

Lara Hussein, co-founder of The Waste Lab, said it is currently servicing 200 households and 10 businesses around Dubai. She said that “many more are on the waiting list as we raise more funds and scale up our resources”.

Pants, Clothing, JeansSupplied
The Waste Lab co-founder Lara Hussein (right) with her colleague Ceylan Uren

To deal with increasing volumes of organic matter The Waste Lab has recently bought its first farmland where it has opened a large-scale composting operation.

It also offers workshops, corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities and volunteering programmes for schools, employees and the public.

Hussein sees a significant opportunity in the UAE for The Waste Lab’s sustainable approach to waste management.

“We are aiming for full-scale operations by 2023 across Dubai, before moving on to the other emirates,” Hussein said.

“Waste segregation and recycling here are still at the early stages. However, the government has started to pursue sustainability practices more seriously.”

She pointed to a new sustainability law for the hospitality sector, landfill fees for waste management trucks in Dubai to increase disposal fees, and the Ne’ma initiative, which aims to encourage citizens and businesses to cut food waste by 50 percent by 2050.