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Starbucks' Free Grounds Are a Well Kept Secret

A program at the popular coffee shop provides used coffee grounds to customers to spread in their gardens or compost piles.

Starbucks has a well-kept secret. Ever wonder what the popular coffee purveyor does with all those coffee grounds that go into your lattes?

The coffee giant has a program that’s been going since 1995—the Grounds for Your Garden initiative. Most Starbucks stores in Greater Annapolis, and elsewhere, will save up used coffee grounds for customers to carry away and use in their gardens and compost heaps.

For free.

“We introduced Grounds for Your Garden in 1995, which offers customers complimentary five-pound (2.27-kilogram) bags of used coffee grounds to enrich garden soil," a Starbucks spokesman said in an email. "And where commercial composting is available, many stores are able to divert other food waste and coffee grounds from the landfill as well.”

Other than that Starbucks officials or local employees would not speak on the record about the program. Still, the program seems to be a winner.

Here’s how it works: Customers can ask an employee for used grounds. If any are available, the employee will package them up and hand them over. Deal done.

In some stores, like the ones in Severna Park and Dulles International Airport, reused large espresso bean bags holding wet grounds sit in a big basket in front of the coffee counter and are free for the taking.

Local stores don’t have the ready-to-go packages, but the employees at most Greater Annapolis Starbucks stores seem enthusiastic about handing over the grounds. Given the environmental bent of the company, employees seem to prefer to have customers reuse the grounds than to toss them into the trash.

The seems to have the most regular pickups. An employee there said customers come in about four times a week on average to pick up grounds. The store would like to have more regulars though, so that fewer
grounds end up in the trash.

The , also in Harbour Center, sells Starbucks Coffee, but is not one of the company’s regular stores. Consequently, the café doesn’t officially participate in the program, but the manager said she and her employees are happy to save grounds for any customers who request them.

Unlike the other stores, the Safeway Starbucks on Houseley Road doesn’t give away their grounds. The store has a composting arrangement with Safeway and all the organic matter ends up in bins at the back of Safeway for shipment to a composting facility, an employee said.

At the Starbucks inside Target at , the young woman expressed a personal willingness to collect grounds, but said that as a stand-alone store they don’t participate in the
official program.

Both will save grounds for customers upon request, employees said. Although the stores participate in the program, one employee who has worked for the company for longer than two years at the mall said they have never fielded a single request.

The employees at Starbucks on West Street at 1901 West are quite earnest about the program although they have no regular customers picking up grounds, likely because many of their patrons live in the surrounding apartments.

They said they are eager to find customers who would come by on a regular basis to get the grounds.

Of the participating stores, most seem open to the idea of either scheduled pickups or in-person, spur-of-the-moment requests. Interested persons can call the stores ahead of time and have the grounds set aside.

Or, customers can request grounds when they order their grande lattes.

Coffee grounds break down quickly and enrich garden soils, adding nutrients and organic matter that fuel plant growth. Consider them caffeine for the vegetables.

Starbucks stores in Greater Annapolis with grounds for the taking include:

  • Harbour Center: 410-573-0076.
  • Barnes and Noble at Annapolis Harbour Center: 410-573-0076.
  • Westfield Annapolis Mall—North (between Pottery Barn and Lord & Taylor): 410-224-0310.
  • Westfield Annapolis mall kiosk (near J.C. Penney): 410-224-3197.
  • 1901 West: 410-295-5136.
Maribel Ibrahim August 18, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Great article, Nina. What an awesome idea!

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