Coffee can make you jittery while marijuana has a mellowing effect.
They might seem like polar opposites, but sellers of the products might have a future together, perhaps proving that someone’s trash can become another’s treasure.
And it’s just one of several similar exchanges found in the area.
The Durango Compost Co. sells a fertilizer to medical marijuana growers that is the excrement of worms that have digested coffee grounds from the Durango Coffee Co. Medical marijuana growers put it in their potted plants. So far, the demand from medical marijuana growers has not been that high, but the potential is there.
“That’s a use that has really shined,” said Tim Wheeler, owner of Durango Coffee Co. and part-owner of Durango Compost Co., which Wheeler formed to find uses for coffee grounds.
Beside keeping it out of the landfill, he is happy to treat potential trash as a treasure hunt.
“If you add value to a waste stream, then you’re adding economic value to the community,” Wheeler said.
Turning a net profit from the web of life has become a local pastime. Durango Compost also sells make-your-own-compost-from-kitchen-scraps kits to individuals as well as businesses such as Steamworks Brewing Co. and public and private institutions.
Durango Compost and Phoenix Recycling, which recycles construction waste, also make a nonmanure compost from wood chips, an alternative for organic farmers who want avoid the risk of using manure from farm animals that have eaten plants treated with herbicides. Personally, Wheeler did not think the risk of chemical herbicide in manure was significant.
Microbreweries give away their beer mash as a cattle feed, but don’t make any jokes about tipping over tipsy cows.
The mash is from a pre-alcohol step in the beer-making process. It is the boiled grain from which brewers derive the sugary liquid to add yeast and make alcohol, said Steve Jung, a rancher outside Bayfield who picks up about 3,000 pounds of beer mash from Ska Brewing Co. every day of the week. Every cow in his 200-count herd is then fed about a coal shovel full of the mash. The cows primarily subsist on grass.
Because the carbohydrates have been boiled out of the grain from Ska, his cows mostly derive protein and fiber from a substance that looks like oatmeal.
‘A real treat’
“In the winter, it’s hot and steamy when they get it,” Jung said. “They don’t get any happier. It’s a real treat because it’s pretty hot.”
Jung shows his appreciation by giving beef to Ska, but, Jung said, he and other ranchers are doing a favor for local breweries.
“They count on us because it would cost them money to get rid of it. The landfill is not going to take it for free. It gets to stinking if you dump it somewhere. It attracts flies and all that,” said Jung, owner of Double S Cattle Co., so named because his wife is named Shelly and his name is Steve.
Coors and other big beer producers can sell their mash on the market, but “the smaller guys have a harder time getting rid of it. They don’t produce enough (to sell on the market),” Jung said.
Local livestock also chow on taco and burrito leftovers because Zia Taqueria sends its kitchen scraps to James Ranch and other farmers.
“That’s how they get their chickens happy to lay eggs,” said Cody Wilderman, the general manager of the north Zia.
“We do it for free,” Wilderman said. “Every once in a while, they will bring us some eggs, but we take those eggs home for personal use.”
Zia also gives away its fryer oil for biodiesel. It has three commercial accounts with the city of Durango to take away its glass, cardboard and single-stream recycling.
“We have a large volume of recycling. I would hate to see that thrown into a landfill,” Wilderman said.
Once single-stream recycling and fees on plastic bags have become well-established, Durango Mayor Dick White thinks the city’s next step toward sustainability might be to pick up food waste from households and/or restaurants.
“The next big thing if you’re trying to get to zero waste is the organics,” White said. “That has multiple dimensions. Emissions from the landfill is certainly one of them, but the organic materials in principle can all be composted and put back on the land.”
Because decaying organic material turns into methane, a greenhouse gas, they can be put to better and safer use as compost for the city’s new organic parks program.
“If we have to buy (compost) and import it, it’s quite costly,” White said. “If we can produce the compost locally, particularly with the city of Durango’s waste stream, then we close that cycle and put it on our own parks. We save money from the process.”
White realizes the solution is not as simple as it might sound.
“Clearly, there are collection challenges. Who’s going to collect it? Where is it going to go?” he said.
The city already has a problem with bears looking for food.
Another challenge is finding open space for large-scale composting to take place, Wheeler said.
Because so many businesses already have taken the lead in composting, White thinks these puzzles can be solved.
“These are pieces I hope Durango and the larger community can put together over the next couple of years,“ the mayor said.”