It was always a little embarrassing. The baristas at my local Starbucks were always fairly cool and the customers were OK. But there was that lingering fear that hung over me every time I walked to the counter and rather than asking for a pumpkin spiced latte or Chai tea, I would ask for their spent coffee grounds. And as you all know, coffee grounds, when used properly, can be a very popular ingredient in your worms' diet.
Every conversation seemed to go like this:
Me: Can I get your spent coffee grounds?
Barista: Excuse me?
Me: Your coffee grounds. I would like to take whatever you have. I use them for my garden. (I just don't get into the worm thing with people at Starbucks.)
Barista: (Looking around for supervisor, nervously flitting her tongue ring) I think so. You realize they're in the trash, right?
Me: Yep, that's fine!
(Barista leaves, asks manager. Manager nods, barista returns.)
Barista: Well you know there's lots of other junk in there. (She's referring to banana peels, filters, cups, maybe some spent gift cards. She doesn't know I actually want most of that stuff)
Me: Yep, that's fine! And I even brought a bag so we can double bag it.
At this point, the barista is processing the fact that a customer is going to walk out of Starbucks with the contents of the store's trash can.
Barista: Ok, (motioning to where employees go back and forth between the front and the back of the counter), meet me over there and you can take what I have.
Now this is where I double bag the trash bag and pass by all the customers with puzzled looks on their faces. Repeat this every couple of weeks and you can understand why it gets tiresome.
But let me tell you there are much better sources of spent coffee grounds, ones with more blue- collar clientele and, get this, even more coffee grounds than Starbucks. Enough grounds that I took home around 150 pounds (68 kilos) of coffee grounds in one morning.
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In the Northeastern US, these wellsprings of coffee are called Wawa. Further south, they're called Sheetz or Royal Farms. In other parts of the country, they might be called Cumberland Farms. In Canada, Couche-Tard fits the bill. Even 7-11, which is the US' largest convenience store chain, is upping its coffee game. These are essentially higher-end convenience stores with surprisingly good food and a dozen different coffees. There are a few reasons why I prefer them to Starbucks, Peet's or any of the smaller artisanal coffee shops where hipsters write their screenplays.
1) Better Coffee: Trash Ratio
They have designated coffee making stations. Most of these places leave their coffees at some sort of a self-service counter with those thermos-style dispensers. But those coffees were likely brewed simultaneously at a station behind that counter often producing more coffee grounds in the first hour than Starbucks will make all morning. So you can get a trash bag full of grounds along with the filters, which are easily vermicomposted.
2) No Weird Looks From Clientele
Let's face it. Starbucks often attract higher-end, more affluent customers than convenience stores. I don't know what it is, but if I'm going to walk out of a store with trash bags, I'd prefer to do it at a place with “salt of the Earth” types, not “I drive a Prius and want everyone to know I'm green, but I would never touch dirt” types. And you already know I have a little bit of a complex when it comes to how my worm hobby is perceived.
3) Trash Is Often More Easily Accessed
These convenience store/gas station type places are normally standalone buildings with parking lots and exterior driveways large enough for trucks and tractor trailers to make their way around them. So their exterior trash collection points tend to be more accessible than a Starbucks, which are often located in malls, strip malls, and other places with tough-to-reach trash. (Note: Make sure you get the manager's permission before rummaging through their trash.)
My local WaWa is ideal. Their trash isn't in dumpsters, but rather larger wheeled trash cans at ground level. Very easy to reach.
What If I Don't Need All These Grounds?
You may find that you can't use all the grounds you collect from even one trip. (In fact, using too much coffee is going to heat your bin up and/or dry it out.) While the grounds will keep for quite awhile with no problem, you can always use them in your regular compost pile. Coffee grounds are very high in nitrogen and composting-wise, are considered “hot.” So hot in fact that my compost pile reached 165ºF within 2 days.
Let Me Hear From You!
One reader here in the Philadelphia area says he has an unlimited supply of spent grains from a local brewery, while a west coast customer gets free loads of okara, a byproduct of tofu. What sources of free worm food do YOU have? Let me know in the comments below!
And if you haven't already downloaded the Urban Worm Castings Harvester for small-scale castings separation, click here and I'll send it your way, free of charge!
The 2020 Vermicomposter's Starter Guide
Your roadmap to a successful beginning in vermicomposting.