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Climate for Action: New Uses for Used Coffee Grounds

2009 February 24

About the Author:  Loreal Crumbley, a senior at George Mason University, is an intern with EPA’s Environmental Education Division through EPA’s Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP).

Many of you may be looking for effective green tips.  One tip I can offer you is to recycle used coffee grounds. Coffee mixed with soil can be used as a natural fertilizer. Used coffee grounds provide gardens with an abundant source of nutrition. Recycling coffee grounds is not only beneficial for gardeners but it helps in reducing the amount of waste going into landfills. When coffee grounds are dumped into landfills they create methane, which is a greenhouse gas. Methane is known to be more harmful than carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas that causes global warming. If we are able to keep coffee grounds out of landfills we’ll be one step closer to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.

Coffee grounds contain a high amount of nitrogen. When scattered across soil before rain or watering they will slowly release nitrogen into the soil. When compost is mixed with coffee grounds it causes the soil temperature to rise and stay hot for long periods of time. The high temperature kills weeds and will allow your garden to flourish beautifully. Coffee grounds are acidic, which benefits “acid loving” plants.  For instance roses, camellias, blueberries, and azaleas all flourish when sprinkled with coffee grounds.

Recycling coffee grounds also helps to feed worms, and keeps troublesome insects away. Earthworms love to feed on used coffee grounds; it helps them grow and reproduce. Having lots of worms is an excellent way to keep a healthy garden. It is important to have worm activity in your soil; this mixes the soil and helps in mineralizing your vegetation. As you all know the odor of coffee is very strong, the odor can sometimes be too strong for humans. In the case of insects like ants, slugs, and snails the odor works as a repellant.

There are many places you can find used coffee grounds. Some good suggestions include local coffee shops, gas stations, schools, or your workplace. You could ask coffee vendors to save coffee grounds for you, and coordinate a time to stop by and pick up your “green fertilizer.”

Other uses for coffee grounds:

  1. Can be used to dye paper or clothes
  2. Can retouch furniture
  3. Can be used as flea repellant, rub on pets (dog, etc.)
  4. Can repel odors around the home
  5. Can be used when cleaning grease

Learn more about recycling used coffee grounds, and remember recycling is one way we can keep our environment natural and beautiful!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

48 Responses leave one →
  1. Lina-EPA permalink*
    February 24, 2009

    I have a question. At home we brew Arabic coffee which is basically the very fine coffee grounds, the cardamon and sugar all boiled together. I would love to use those coffee grounds in the garden, but won’t the sugar just attract a bunch of ants? Can I still use them?

  2. Linda permalink
    February 25, 2009

    I’ve been saving my own coffee grounds (and scrounging up extras whenever I can) for years. You’re right about the benefits, especially for roses. I only drink one cup a day, so I don’t have lots of grounds to add, but every little bit helps. Remember too that unbleached coffee filter paper is also compostable, as are used tea bags.

    Lina, you should still be able to use your coffee grounds; try adding them to your home compost heap (or worm box if you have one). The heat of the compost should keep the ants at bay. If not, try rinsing the grounds with clear water first, maybe by layering a coffee filter or fine cotton cloth in a sieve. Once you’ve rinsed out the sugar, you should be pest-free.

  3. Tess Evans permalink
    February 25, 2009

    This is very interesting! I will pass this information along to everyone I know with a garden. We all need to do little things like this to protect our environment as well as our lives.

  4. Alexacoffeenut permalink
    February 26, 2009

    It’s good to know that there is a place for coffee grounds to go to when disposed. As an avid coffee drinker as well as somewhat of an environmentalist, I feel really good knowing that by recycling coffee grounds, our worms will be able to reproduce, which will keep away the other harmful insects to one’s garden. There is a continuous and growing problem with landfills, especially ones that have been so poorly handled that they catch on fire and become detrimental, and a simple step like recycling coffee grounds will help prevent those fires. I am someone who makes coffee almost every day, and knowing how much coffee this country consumes along with me making my own really makes me think that there has to be something else to do with those used coffee grounds rather than just throwing them in the trash. With these hard economic times, it is also more economically friendly to use used coffee grounds to clean up the grease left on the stove from the night before, or instead of buying that expensive formula to get rid of fleas on your cat for one time, why not just use your used coffee grounds to do so? I am very glad that the EPA bloggers with Greenversations picked this up and gave these great tips. Recycling does not seem that serious, but if we really take the time to recycle correctly by separating our plastics from papers, glasses from everything else, and putting to use our used coffee grounds rather than throwing it with all of the other litter, we will be able to help our climate little by little. The hope is that people will listen. And who doesn’t love the smell of coffee beans if you need something to fix that odor in your house?

  5. Catherine Smith permalink
    February 28, 2009

    I’m thrilled to see this kind of information appear in this agenda.

    My husband and I have used organic methods in our vegetable garden and yard for over 25 years. We regularly use coffee grounds in both our compost and in our raised beds.

    I also use them in my verimcomposting tubs, and the worms love them.

    I also use shredded black and white newspaper in most of these areas as well. I use that as bedding in my worm bins instead of peat moss which is now facing some environmental challenges. We regularly layer shredded wet newspaper (black & white only) in our compost bins and I use it between my vegetable rows along with a layer of shredded grass and leaves to act as a footpath. It helps control the germination of weed seed and helps to retain moisture to the vegetable plants.

    Great to see these type of methods finally get some positive attention.

  6. Mr. Zackon's first period class permalink
    March 3, 2009

    As a class we came up with the following comments and questions:

    I was unaware that coffee grounds could be used to repel insects. I’m going to try and use coffee grounds to repel japanese beetles.

    Are there any type of coffee grounds you should not use?

    Are there any insects that are not affected by coffee grounds?

    What does the caffeine do to worms?

    Does anyone actually use coffee grounds as a flea repllent?

    Are there any negative health effects with putting coffee grounds in the soil of a garden?

    This is a good and easy way to use something to help the environment that is normally thrown away.

    If coffee is good for the gardens, why is it not good in a landfill?

    Please note that this is the response from nine students after reading the article. We are interested in any answers and thoughts about our questions and comments.

  7. Loreal permalink
    March 9, 2009

    Thank you for passing along the information!!! And I agree, with a little initiative we can all do our part to keep our environment beautiful and healthy!!

  8. Loreal permalink
    March 9, 2009

    Thank you for your comment!! Oh and thanks for filling me on adding black and white newspaper to help control the development of weed seeds. I’ll have to try that in my garden!! I’m glad we have readers with experience who can add helpful information to our blog!!

  9. Loreal permalink
    March 9, 2009

    The Arabic coffee grounds should be fine; I would definitely use Linda’s (comment below) on rinsing the coffee grounds before adding them to your garden. With the sugar washed off the ants should stay away. For tips on adding food scraps to you compost use this website: http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/organics/food/fd-faq.htm

    I hope this helps, and good luck with your garden!!

  10. Loreal permalink
    March 9, 2009

    I’m so glad my posting was able to help recycle your coffee grounds!! If we continue to limit the amount of food waste that enters our landfills then we will be able to do our part in reducing greenhouse gas emission.

  11. Loreal permalink
    March 9, 2009

    That’s an awesome tip on the filter paper and used tea bags, I had never heard that before!! I will have to try that in my garden.

    I hope you continue to check in on our blog, your information and insight was very helpful with Lina’s question (above).

  12. Loreal permalink
    March 9, 2009

    Thank you for all of your questions, I’m sure others were wondering the same things!

    I think it’s a wonderful idea to try the coffee grounds as a Japanese beetle repellent. You will have to keep me posted on the results! I know I am very interested in you findings and I am sure many others are as well.

    Ok so now I will attempt to answer your questions to the best of my knowledge!

    Are there any type of coffee grounds you should not use?

    All coffee grounds are good for compost. Some coffee grounds can affect plants negatively, such as tomato plants. So I would advise researching which plants do well with coffee grounds or just adding coffee grounds to documented acid loving plants (since coffee grounds are acidic).

    Are there any insects that are not affected by coffee grounds?

    Most insects stay away from coffee ground. The smell is too strong for them. I have not seen any insects that are attracted to or are unaffected by coffee grounds. I will have to keep an eye on my garden this spring and summer and see. I will keep you posted if any insects come around (other than worms). I have not noticed any insects that don’t mind the smell, but the insects that stay away are: slugs, rust flies, scale insects, and mealy bugs.

    What does the caffeine do to worms?

    I have not heard of any scientific experiments that show what caffeine does to worms, but I do know they love to feed on the coffee grounds. By feeding worms it allows them to grow, reproduce and move around all over your garden. Heavy worm activity creates better soil. The movement spreads the nutrients and mineralizes your vegetation.
    If you are afraid the caffeine might affect the worms, you can try other food scraps or organic matter. Worm compost is used by many with not only coffee grounds but all other organic materials. People use worm bins in a process call vermicomposting to create high value compost. For more information on vermicomposting, and organic materials used for backyards please visit:

    http://www.epa.gov/osw/inforesources/news/2007news/05-terra.htm

    http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/rrr/composting/vermi.htm

    http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/organics/index.htm

    Does anyone actually use coffee grounds as a flea repellent?

    Yes!! I know many people in my neighborhood who use coffee grounds as a flea repellent. And it really works! I have also heard that it makes animals hair softer.

    Are there any negative health effects with putting coffee grounds in the soil of a garden?

    The coffee grounds provided nutrients to the soil, are eaten by the worms, and decompose in soil without creating methane. I have not heard of any scientific experiments that show the health effects from adding coffee grounds to your soil, but I do know the major effects from allowing coffee grounds to enter landfills. If we do not reroute the flow of organic materials form our landfills it will affect human health, our land, air, and water. Some impacts of landfills are that they cause groundwater and soil contamination; as well as providing refuge for disease carrying organisms such as rats and flies.

    If coffee is good for the gardens, why is it not good in a landfill?

    When food waste is sent to landfills it is placed in conditions without oxygen. The decomposition of food waste without oxygen creates methane. Methane is one of the worst greenhouse gas emissions. For more information on food waste in landfills please visit:

    http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/organics/food/fd-basic.htm

    I hope my answers and thoughts helped with your question!! For more in-depth information on recycling common household wastes please visit:

    http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/index.htm

  13. Ms Fluffy S. Parker permalink
    March 23, 2009

    I have found that coffee is Great for Xmass Trees,Rhodedendrons,probably alternative to aluminum sulfate scabbies remediation for potatoes,and the natural insecticide(CNS) paralyrtic-caffiene-makes a great drain cleaner mixed with bleech-and disinfectant-cow barns-linoleum floor de-gummer-destroys hydrocarbon grease-gum goo,etc,powerfull cleanser-smells nice-artificial Glade Vanilla-last 10 minutes-then adds a nice growing surface BUGS luve-Coffe sand water-the-dregs-should be place in a used laundry bottle-for houshold chores-cofee-also prevents weed seed germination-whats not to luv says your backyard plantings?also-disinfect-pet areas-indoor-and out-garbage cans-oil spills-,driveway grease-etc,pool algae cleaner-you name it-toilet bowl disinfectant-drain cleaner-bathtub scum cutter-bike-car-de greaser,car seat cleaner,etc

  14. Anonymous permalink
    April 11, 2009

    nice artdile

  15. House Plants permalink
    April 30, 2009

    I’m a big coffee and tea drinker and am trying to do my part to help the environment. So, I wanted to know if coffee and tea grounds would have the same effect on house plants?

    I found your artlicle to very informative :-)

  16. Yolanda permalink
    June 12, 2009

    Hello, I found the info very interesting. I have a few ?’s Are coffee grounds good for house plants? Or even potted plants outside? How can you store coffee grounds? I live in a condo I don’t have a garden yet sometime in the near future I would love to have one,so I was just curious as to how long the grounds could be saved and how? Thanks yolanda

  17. lyounes permalink*
    June 12, 2009

    I have a question–any change the coffee grinds will help keep the Japanese beetles away from the roses? That would be an added bonus!

  18. Matt permalink
    July 31, 2009

    That’s a really cool tip. I’ll link it on my blog later.

  19. Nathan permalink
    July 2, 2010

    I have been taking care of roses for some time and to be honest i have never used the grounds for my roses, thought it to be to acidic
    i do use them for my camellias and azaleas. I have learned something new here thank you and will try out on my roses. Be interested on how you found this to help with your rose gardening and what notices to roses if any?

    love to tell people about this on my site as well, Thanks.
    Nathan.

  20. gunstr permalink
    July 14, 2010

    I have not heard of any scientific experiments that show what caffeine does to worms, but I do know they love to feed on the coffee grounds.
    so I was just curious as to how long the grounds could be saved and how? Thanks

  21. dawn oats permalink
    September 9, 2010

    I use the same container the coffee comes in. I place the used grounds in and save them until mostly full and then use it around roses and other plants in the yard.

  22. Koffie permalink
    September 28, 2010

    I’ve got alot of used coffee grounds since i’m the owner of a coffee shop, so thanks for the 5 uses!

  23. jeff permalink
    October 6, 2010

    when compost is mixed with coffee grounds it causes the soil temperature to rise and stay hot for long periods of time.

  24. Shane permalink
    November 1, 2010

    Great article. I have been using coffee grounds in large quantities (over 2 tonnes now) in my garden and have started an initiative called Ground to Ground to deal with the massive amounts of used coffee grounds discarded to landfill. I have a site dedicated to building the most comprehensive body of knowledge on this subject.
    http:groundtoground.org

  25. Organic Coffee permalink
    January 30, 2011

    We have a coffee shop that uses mostly organic and fair trade coffee, so this article was very informative and provides us with a way to put this waste to good use.

  26. Organic Coffee permalink
    January 30, 2011

    good article

  27. Donna permalink
    March 5, 2011

    My 5th graders graders have a garden, and we need to use all organic methods to produce our vegetables. We are trying to find and inexpensive & organic way to keep pests away from our veggies. We have used Marigolds, garlic, and now we will try coffee beans.

  28. AKo permalink
    March 21, 2011

    1. Soften and add shine to hair. When washing your hair, rub coffee grounds through wet hair and rinse. For brown hair, coffee grounds add highlights.
    2. Use coffee grounds as an exfoliant for skin. Pat on skin, massage over skin, rinse.
    3. Add coffee grounds to your skin mask beauty routine.
    4. Make homemade tattoos (temporary) with henna and coffee grounds.
    5. Fertilize plants. Old coffee grounds are nutrient-rich for plants that thrive in an acidic soil.
    6. Add used coffee grounds to the pots of indoor plants.
    7. Work used coffee grounds into your garden soil before seed planting. After your plants start to emerge, work in coffee grounds near the plants. Used coffee grounds are said to repel snails and slugs as well as adding nutrients to the soil.
    8. Increase your carrot and radish harvest by mixing seeds with dry coffee grounds before planting the seeds.
    9. Use coffee grounds to repel ants.
    10. Keep cats from using your garden as a kitty box by spreading used coffee grounds and orange peels throughout flower beds.
    11. Deodorize a freezer. Place a bowl with used coffee grounds in the freezer to remove unwanted odors. Add a few drops of vanilla to coffee grounds.
    12. Rub coffee grounds on hands to get rid of smells from chopping or cutting up pungent foods.
    13. Make a used coffee grounds sachet. Fill old nylons or cheescloth with dry used coffee grounds. Hang in closets to absorb odors.
    14. When you need an abrasive cleaner, coffee grounds can be used. Be careful of any surfaces that might stain.
    15. Remove furniture scratches with wet coffee grounds.
    16. Got a fireplace? Sprinkle wet coffee grounds over the ashes to keep from becoming engulfed in the plume of dust ashes create when you need to remove them.
    17. Dye fabric, paper or Easter eggs. Simply add used coffee grounds to warm water and let sit a bit to create a dye.
    18. After you give your dog a bath, rub coffee grounds through the coat of your pet. Coffee grounds are said to repel fleas.
    19. Keep bait worms alive by mixing coffee grounds into the soil before you add worms.
    20. Grow mushrooms on old coffee grounds.

  29. Bek permalink
    June 8, 2011

    I think the link you are trying to post is
    http://groundtoground.org

  30. Shane permalink
    June 27, 2011

    Thank you Bek!!

  31. pest Control permalink
    July 18, 2011

    Coffee grounds are using for many purposes.Remove the coffee grounds from your coffeemaker and put them in an aluminum foil pie plate. Place them in a cool, dry area until they are completely dry.

  32. Massage in Cairns permalink
    August 4, 2011

    Job well done..I learned a lot from the articles, its very informative.

  33. Jennifer Roseberry permalink
    August 15, 2011

    I’m not sure if it was mentioned, but Coffee; used coffee grounds are able to keep us beautiful and healthy too,on the site CARE2 you can find other ideas, I found this under coffee:kitchen cupboard beauty tips, I’m always looking for ways to help my health, skin and body out which also helps my mind. All the beauty lotions and such are so expensive most of the time.I though to my self, find a fun way to save money. Yes, if you dont have certain ingredients of you need to buy it, but thats when you find how thrifty you can be, find BEST ingredients, by seeing where the money saving buys are. We as people, need to keep our Petal from wilting away too and keep on Blossoming in our world.

  34. Me Here permalink
    September 29, 2011

    What??? Any chance that you could re-write your comment (preferably here, as a reply) in a list format, with a bit more clarity?

  35. TheGreenThumbDoctor permalink
    September 29, 2011

    Hi Yolanda,

    (Just in case you never had your questions answered)

    In response to your questions… 1) Coffee grounds can be sprinkled around house/potted plants. They are acidic, so be very conservative or avoid using them with plants that don’t tolerate acidic soil. 2) I store my surplus coffee grounds in the container that the ground coffee came in. 3) Coffee grounds can be saved/stored almost indefinitely but I would caution you to ensure that they are thoroughly dry before doing so. Otherwise, they could easily mold.

    Hope this info helps,
    TheGreenThumbDoctor

  36. TheGreenThumbDoctor permalink
    September 29, 2011

    Hi Gunstr,

    I wouldn’t think that there would be very much caffeine left in the grounds after brewing your coffee! 8)

  37. Coffee With KC permalink
    January 7, 2012

    Very interesting article, I know we use coffee grounds in our worm farm but never thought of using some right on our garden soil. Thanks for the great information.

  38. growltigerkat permalink
    March 15, 2012

    How do i prepare and use coffee grounds to repell fleas on my cats?

    Thank you.

  39. April 30, 2012

    I have been using ako’s 5th tip
    5. Fertilize plants. Old coffee grounds are nutrient-rich for plants that thrive in an acidic soil.

    This works wonders. It also keeps the pests away which is a huge plus.

  40. May 21, 2012

    Coffee is a brewed beverage with a bitter flavor prepared from the roasted seeds of the coffee plant.Coffeee is a source of freshness, and different blends of coffee are really soothing to your tongue.Coffee,both hot and cold,is really enjoyable.

  41. May 31, 2012

    Such a good idea! The next step is raising some awareness about this issue. I don’t think many people are aware of the fertilizing properties of coffee grounds.

  42. June 3, 2012

    I am curious to see how many commercial chains like Starbucks are aware/interested using coffee grounds in this way. Perhaps a citizens action project for the future? Think of the difference that could be made.

  43. June 27, 2012

    They are easy to use and are inexpensive to purchase. Most operate on the same principle. Inside the coffee pot is a filter basket where a paper filter holds the coffee grounds. Cold water is poured into the reservoir.

  44. July 6, 2012

    Oh now I see coffee ground can be a use as henna as well.

  45. Ahmad Zaki Aldy (The Owner Of House Plants Decor) permalink
    November 29, 2012

    Coffea arabica (Arabian Coffee). Known as a Coffee Plant, this is a tall, evergreen shrub bearing leathery, elliptic leaves that look rather waxy along the central vein. The growth habit is remarkably willowy, with vertical and horizontal branches. Compact clusters of aromatic white flowers appear in the leaf axils in September, followed by fruits with turn red when ripe. These are stone fruits which usually contain two stones-the famous coffee beans, that are flat on the side where they grow against each other. The plant can flower and fruit in the greenhouse but this seldom happens in the home environment. Propagate from seed or lateral stem cuttings with a heel in late summer. It is advisable to add a little loam or clay to the potting compost.

  46. Andreas permalink
    June 18, 2013

    I had no idea coffee grounds could be used to get rid of fleas. I see there are some other people here asking about fleas. A good source of information for this topic

    Cheers

  47. fahad permalink
    March 9, 2014

    very nice post, never knew uses of left over coffee grounds.

  48. Neha Mishra permalink
    March 27, 2014

    I love the idea of recycling used coffee grounds in order to conserve the nature. Oil Paintings Singapore
    depict this kind of a recycling operation beautiful & artistic way. Oil Paintings Singapore
    are well known for the exquisite use of colors & depiction of nature in an eye pleasing manner

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