The French start-up Upcycle recovers coffee grounds from companies to transform them into Monte Cristo oyster mushrooms, using a social, collaborative and circular approach to recycle biowaste and promote organic farming.
Every year, in France, 10 million tonnes of food end up in the garbage. Recovering this biowaste, however, can help to create new food resources and tackle climate change at the same time, all while creating economic opportunities for farmers. How? By upcycling them, that is, returning them to the soil.
Based on the premise that nature is wise and it does not produce waste, the French start-up Upcycle recycles coffee grounds and turns them into a substrate that grows mushrooms. But they do so with a special approach, collaborating with employment integration associations to offer those who have been away from the job market, or who have disabilities, the chance to land a job producing or distributing mushrooms.
Founded in 2011 by Cédric Péchard, an engineer passionate about biomimicry, the company collects the coffee grounds from Parisian companies and transforms them into Monte Cristo oyster mushrooms at its mushroom farm in the Yvelines, near Paris. Then, it sells these local products to retailers and Parisian chefs, some Michelin-starred, such as Yannick Alléno or the Italian chef Simone Zanoni.
But everyone has the opportunity to grow these little delicacies at home or at the office. The company also markets its flagship product, "La boîte à champignons", to consumers, associations, schools, social housing tenants, among others. Available for purchase online, these culture kits look like a milk carton. Once fed on coffee grounds, they will produce fresh oyster mushrooms in just a few days.
And since nothing gets thrown away and everything gets transformed, the company also distributes the substrate left-overs from the production process to agricultors, to help them fertilize their crops without pesticides. Since its launch, Upcycle has recycled the equivalent of 49 million cups of coffee grounds —nearly 700,000 kilogrammes of coffee—, which have contributed to regenerate more than 19,000 square meters of soil.
In 2017, the startup started installing composting machinery inside the canteens of companies such as Air France or Intermarché, in order to transform their employees' lunch leftovers, whether cooked or raw, into fertilizer. After a 15-day processing stage, the compost is ready to be used on site by the company's employees or distributed by Upcycle to local farmers for free.
The firm, that has been awarded on several occasions, continues to broaden its scope of action by working hand-in-hand with private and public stakeholders, advising them on urban agriculture projects. Its latest mission? To help the Principality of Monaco find new ways to manage its bio-waste.
This article has been written as part as a series of stories produced for open_resource by Sparknews, a French social enterprise that aims to foster new narratives that can help accelerate a social and environmental transition to tackle our world’s most pressing issues.