Arcata’s Kinetic Koffee builds sustainability

BEANMEN Northcoast Co-op’s Joel Bradfield with Kinetic Koffee’s Alan Black. Photo by Matt Filar | Union

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Kinetic Koffee has always been on the move, now more than ever. Since 2005, the South G Street gourmet micro-roaster has fused people-powered motion with stimulating refreshment, and has put that into practice during the coronavirus pandemic with contactless deliveries to its customers throughout Humboldt.

Even with so many business norms at a semi-standstill, the company’s crew of caffeinated kineticists is still on the move, carrying out new sustainability initiatives to reduce its waste and energy footprint.

  Reduction revisions span the full coffee production and delivery process, from incoming green beans to bulk bins, though end-user bags remain an insoluble conundrum, so far. The process began two years ago, and was slowed, but not stymied by the pandemic.

“One of our values is to reduce waste as much as possible,” said Kinetic Koffee co-owner Charlie Jordan. 

While they have no control over the packaging in which raw beans arrive, the company has done its best to wring maximum use out of the burlap bags. After disgorging their green coffee beans into Kinetic’s hungry hoppers, they find new life among local farmers, fisherfolk and landscapers – you can even buy one from them for a dollar. “There are lots of uses,” Jordan said. 

The first step in roasting is removing the beans’ husks, and therein lies another opportunity. The nutrient-rich skins are given to farmers and landscapers, and make excellent compost.

But the biggest waste reduction win came with eliminating the single-use, 5 lb.  polyethylene bags used to supply bulk bins at grocery stores, cafes and restaurants. Vexingly useful and convenient, the bags “can squish to whatever size you need for backroom storage,” Jordan said. The plastic also keeps air off the beans, preserving freshness. But that short-time use between filling and emptying created another near-eternally lasting landfill item.

“It was just killing us,” she said. “We thought, ‘How can we make this work for us?” Persistent searching turned up an elegant alternative, one even more practical than the old bags – sleek, durable and best of all, reusable plastic containers. Equipped with handles, snap-on lids and spouts, the new bulk containers keep the coffee fresher, result in less loss, are easier to inventory, stack more conveniently and simplify filling bulk bins.

“Our customers actually love it,” Jordan said. “They’re loving the ease of it.”

The NSF approved, foodsafe containers allowed Kinetic to keep its organic certification. One type is in use at Los Bagels, Wildflower Café and Café Phoenix, while supermarkets get another version. After each use, they’re picked up, washed and returned to service. They’re expected to last for years. 

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“We’ve reduced plastic use by 50 percent,” Jordan said. “We expect to do 70 to 80 percent. That will eventually pay off in reduced cost, after investment costs are recouped. “We don’t expect savings this year, but we are helping save the environment,” she said.

Still eluding a sustainable solution are the end-user foil bags for coffee sold in stores. Jordan said the now-defunct ScrapHUMBOLDT had found limited creative reuse solutions, and so might consumers, though no practical replacement is yet in sight. 

But the search for greater sustainability continues. “We’re always looking at new inventions, thinking about ways to have a lighter footprint,” Jordan said.


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