Students create coffee-scented soap to benefit community

By Samantha Jones Toal, Assistant new editor

In the spring of 2013, members of Enactus, a social entrepreneurship organization on campus, realized the sheer amount of excess coffee grounds available. Leftover grounds become an environmental nuisance in landfills, so the student group sought a solution.

“The coffee grounds that are thrown out release methane gas, which is bad for the environment,” said Kasturi Pantvaidya, freshman in business and project associate for Grounds for Growth.

Grounds for Growth, sponsored by Enactus, has created a use for coffee grounds to help the community without harming the environment.

“When you put coffee grounds specifically in a landfill, with the compression and everything, it makes it much worse for the environment. But it could be very helpful as a fertilizer,” said Nathan Gaertner, junior in business and project management.

Grounds for Growth originally collected the grounds and gave them to local farmers as fertilizer; however, as the project grew, members of Enactus began researching other projects.

“There’s many other uses for coffee grounds, too, which is how we got where we are now,” said Tom Jager, junior in business and project manager.

Now, Grounds for Growth has a new endeavor: collecting coffee grounds from Espresso Royale to make coffee-scented soap. Through this new project, the group is tackling two recycling sectors: coffee grounds and soap.

“We go to the I-Hotel and we collect all the soap that is either unused or very lightly used and we take that to recycle for our project,” Pantvaidya said.

They then take the coffee grounds and use a special process to melt them down and mold them into soap, she said.

While the project focuses on recycling and environmental sustainability, it also aims to benefit the community.

“Our partner is an organization of the Urbana-Champaign community called Restoration Urban Ministries (RUM),” Pantvaidya said. “These are people of the community who don’t have the necessary economic or social skills or job skills to get back on their feet.”

Grounds for Growth teaches the members of RUM how to create the coffee-scented soap.

“The idea is that they can use those skills that they learned from us in our business workshops and apply that to make their own soap and sell that for a profit out in the community,” she said.

Additionally, Grounds for Growth visits RUM twice weekly to teach members of the organization basic skills, such as creating a resume and using certain Google products.

Opportunities for sale in the community include local farmer’s markets and boutiques. For Moms Weekend, Grounds for Growth project members plan to sell the soap on the Quad to gauge community interest and reaction to the soap.

“There’s a few different needs this project addresses,” Gaertner said. “The main need is helping to enrich the people of RUM so that they’re better able to contribute to society in a meaningful way and get back on their feet.”

Jager said the project came about because the organization hopes to find long-term solutions to meet the basic needs of the community. Enactus currently gives 100 percent of its profits from the soap to RUM.

“It’s different from volunteering. Volunteering in a soup kitchen for example, you donate two hours of time, but a week later you do the exact same thing again,” Jager said. “This project is instead creating a sustainable solution to these issues.”

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