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Chicago's coffee could become worm food

  • Earthworms chow down on coffee grounds to produce high end fertilizer.
Earthworms chow down on coffee grounds to produce high end fertilizer. (Nature's Little Recyclers )
May 29, 2013|By Mick Swasko, @swasko | RedEye

The coffee grounds that made your morning latte could soon be worm food.

That’s Ed Hubbard’s plan for Nature’s Little Recyclers, a company he founded in October aimed at collecting unwanted coffee grounds from downtown shops and turning them into high-grade fertilizer for urban farms. The company, based in “The Plant” -- a Back of the Yards vertical farm -- is currently in a pilot stage, Hubbard said. But Hubbard said he looking to ratchet up its operations using crowd-funding site Indiegogo to raise $6,000 in order to begin a larger scale business.

“It’s an easy process, but it’s a dedicated process,” he said.

Hubbard is already working with the downtown Capital One Cafe 360 to feed his earthworms, collecting and composting 1,000 pounds of unwanted grounds since October. But with funding, he said the goal is to collect the 6 tons of coffee waste generated in Chicago’s downtown everyday and put it to better use. He will mix them with cardboard and newspaper, feed them to the 100 pounds of earthworms he currently has (a population that doubles every 60 days), and produce “the city equivalent of high-grade” cow fertilizer for Chicago area urban gardens and farmers.

“The biggest thing about coffee right now is we are spending a lot of money on “seed to cup policies,’” he said, referring to environmentally and socially friendly ways coffee gets from the ground to the store. But there’s no business in place, he says, to keep the grounds from hitting the landfills; a problem he hopes to solve.

“I’m trying to build a company that brings nature and high-tech together,” he said.

Contrary to what one would think, Hubbard said earthworms are completely unaffected by caffeine. Instead, they chew through the mixture and produce half their own body weight each day in fertilizer. Once production begins on a larger scale, Hubbard hopes to sell the product to farmers throughout the city for about $1 per pound.   

With 15 days to go in his online fund-raising campaign, Nature’s Little Recyclers has only raised $196 of its $6,000 goal. But Hubbard said he will push on, pursuing funding through city funding for green technology in order to make the goal a reality.

For more information, or to donate, click here.


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