While Toronto’s municipal and private recycling systems are struggling to find a cost-effective way to recycle coffee pods, one Toronto-based startup has already found a solution.
GoJava, co-founded by Eugene Ace and Evan Birmann, offers a solution that allows consumers of single-serve coffee from brands like Keurig to buy their favourite coffee flavours and recycle their coffee pods for free, instead of sending them to landfills.
“We sell all different types of coffee pods online…the same stuff you’d find at the grocery store and a lot more selection of variety,” said Ace, who co-founded GoJava in 2015.
According to Ace, GoJava sells coffee and beverages from brands like Tassimo and Nespresso to homes and offices in the Greater Toronto Area, often at the same or better prices than grocery stores. When customers place an order for coffee at GoJava.ca, the company delivers the coffee and provides a special collection bin to discard coffee pods.
“We do a free next business day delivery to your home or office with a $40 order,” said Ace. “We bring you a bin to collect your pods and whenever you need more more products, we take back the used coffee pods, aggregate them, and send them to a facility.”
At GoJava’s partner facility, TerraCycle Canada, a Fergus, Ont.-based specialty recycling company, coffee pods are shredded in an industrial shredder to separate the coffee grounds from the plastic and other components to make them recyclable, a process that municipal and private recycling systems have yet to master.
“The coffee is separated from the plastic,” said Ace. “The coffee is then composted or used as fertilizer and the plastic goes into a mix that they [facility] make plastic lumber out of. The plastic lumber gets used on things like park benches, playgrounds, industrial applications, and so on.”
Ace says sending coffee pods to landfills poses two major environmental problems. Not only does the plastic from coffee pods become useless in landfills, but the coffee grounds inside the pods — which should be composted — are also buried within the landfill and lack exposure to the air. The result is the coffee grounds end up producing methane, a greenhouse gas that is “20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”
“In landfills, these coffee pods become significant contributors to global warming and greenhouse gasses,” said Ace. “GoJava is freeing up that coffee from the plastic and allowing it to either break down naturally in a compost facility or be used as a fertilizer rather than being stuck in the landfill.”
While GoJava has been quick to tackle the GTA’s coffee pod dilemma, entrepreneurs Ace and Birmann say their company faces a challenge many young startups face: a lack of funding.
“The biggest challenge has been raising money because we find ourselves in a place where we’re not quite a tech company and we’re not quite a biotech company so we don’t fall into these popular investment buckets that people like to invest in,” said Ace, adding that scaling the company can be hard with little access to capital.
Still, GoJava has successfully diverted more than 220,000 coffee pods from landfills and received positive responses from its customers, who don’t have to feel guilty about disposing coffee pods anymore.
“You have a choice now,” said Ace. “Instead of sending pods to landfills, you could actually recycle them. As soon as people hear that, there’s like a great many of them that get excited and very supportive and the other thing that’s sort of made us successful is that we made it very easy to make that switch.
GoJava plans to expand its services to Ottawa and the United States later this year.