The average coffee drinker is responsible for more than three kilograms of husk waste each year. (And that’s outside of the waste we produce with takeaway cups thoughtlessly used once then disposed of.) Globally, the stats are even more staggering: more than 1.35 million tonnes of husk waste is generated annually as a result of global coffee production.
Someone who would intimately know of coffee-production waste is Pablo & Rusty’s Coffee Roasters founder, Saxon Wright, who became an Australian coffee stalwart when he accidentally launched his brand 10 years ago. He’s since been working to fix the associated waste issue.
“This idea was really two ideas that collided, and the combination became bigger than either on their own,” explains Saxon. “Our coffee partners in Yunnan, along with us, have always sought to create zero waste from the production to consumption of coffee, therefore eliminating waste from the supply chain. The guys at the farms were trying to solve the husk problem, [asking] what do we do with millions of tonnes of this raw material, and we were trying to solve the design aspects and sustainability issues around modern commercial ceramics.”
At the intersection of these problems waiting to be solved was HuskeeCup. HuskeeCup, as Saxon says, aims to “rethink what a cup can be”. And in both material and design, the brand has, just hours into launch, already managed to convince people of its mission. Despite launching the product to the public via Kickstarter yesterday, HuskeeCup has already exceeded its fundraising amount – in just 12 hours. Put it down to the sheer genius of the thing.
“It’s a cup made from the waste material created by the production of coffee at a farm level,” Saxon explains. “Husk is hulled off in the drying stage and is typically just discarded or burned. We have taken this material and turned it into something functional – a sustainable alternative to ceramics for cafés.”
Considering a cup like this has never existed before in Australia, taking a blind step in the pioneering production stage was understandably a feat. As the product hinges heavily on clever industrial design, this was naturally a pivotal stage for the team – not only did they ruminate on elements, such as the thermal qualities (noticeably, the cup has no handle), but, of course, there was considerable discussion around how it was even going to be possible to make such a vessel.
“We have learnt off various experts in parallel fields, industrial designers, moulding and polymer experts,” Saxon explains. “We have sought input from all potential users, like baristas, wait staff and end customers. However, all new problems can be solved if you go back to first principles, have a creative process and team, have an open mind and a willingness to learn from everyone around you. This has certainly been a team effort and, because of a shared vision, we won’t stop until it’s where it needs to be.”
Indeed, the team are already working on an even more eco-friendly version of the cup.
“We have been researching all kinds of polymers – whilst we won’t be there for launch, we want to use CO2-capturing microbes to produce our base bio-polymer to blend with our husk. The result being a seriously eco-cup. However, in reality, it is a lot of testing, and trial and error. The challenge is using as much husk as possible, whilst preserving all the characteristics of the design intent and useful qualities.”
Considering the in-depth nature of this new project – not to mention the fact he has his own thriving business in Pablo & Rusty’s – where does Saxon find enough time to dedicate to each business?
“I think it’s about focusing on key areas at different times,” Saxon says of shouldering the two start-ups. “Huskee actually dovetails really well with Pablo & Rusty’s, and I add value to both where I can. In reality, it is two teams of great people that drive them, and I see my role to give vision and depth to the businesses. I can add practical or technical value, but I place my time to the areas that I can make the greatest contribution.”
The Huskee team is five strong – along with Saxon, there’s coffee grower and director of Yunnan Coffee Traders Joshua Jagelman, as well as operations guru Nicole Barnes, IP navigator and manufacturing authority Adrian Chen, and Michael Chin, who “drew the dots between husk and cup”.
While the successful Kickstarter campaign will keep the team busy, they’re already thinking ahead.
“We are already designing a universal lid to make it even more functional and have some other ideas in the works,” Saxon tells us. “It’s fun to get back into start-up mode, as I enjoy the energy in that space.”
Indeed, Saxon and the team’s entrepreneurial drive is one aspect that has even proved to be a challenge – especially when, on the way to solving one problem, he stumbles across another equally important one.
“I think there are so many worthy problems that need solving,” Saxon explains. “I feel like we have seen so many other needs along the way that I would love to tackle, but it’s important that we stay focused. However, there are so many opportunities out there to make a difference, people need to see that doing business and solving real problems, especially environmental and social ones, aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Check out HuskeeCup’s successful Kickstarter campaign here, which still has pledges available (at the time of publication).