UpCircle makes skin and eye care products from spent coffee grounds

Several years ago William Brightman stopped at a London cafe for his usual cup of java and got to ask the barista what he did with all his spent coffee grounds. He was amazed to learn the The store paid the city to collect and dispose of them on a regular basis. So amazed that he struck up a conversation with his sister Anna Brightman, thinking there had to be a better way. The wheels in his head began to turn; they were talking more, and soon after, the siblings were in business together doing something from these patterns.

Anna, who grew up wanting to be a makeup artist, knew that coffee had many skin care benefits, so, she said, “I thought to myself, why not repurpose coffee into sustainable circular skincare products? ”

At the same time, they would tackle a big problem with waste in cafes.

“This is an industry-level production; it’s not a person at home making their morning coffee. We started collecting in this one store and experimenting with the field, ”says Anna.

At first they made coffee body scrubs and then facial scrubs. Today, UK-based company UpCircle Beauty collects from over 100 stores.

“We get land for free. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship where they save on disposal, and we get our ingredients. Plus, a lot of them sell our products, and it’s a great way for cafes to show that they are engaging in sustainable practices and innovations to minimize their waste, ”says Anna.

How much they take out of the hands of retailers adds up. That was enough to create a menu of sustainable skin and eye care products that are now on the shelves in a few major retail chains and several small outlets.

Perks & White Coffee Shops are among those who supply raw materials and sell what is made from them. The company has three retail outlets in South London which generate more than 440 pounds of coffee waste.

“Working with UpCircle has saved us money, but the main draw for us is developing a local relationship with a like-minded company that shows how it is possible to create a circular economy that turns waste into value. », Declares Jason Perks, co-founder perks and white coffees.

What grounds that Lumberjack, a general store and cafe, doesn’t give a community gardener for compost, goes to UpCircle.

“We are very happy to donate the by-products from our coffees, which means there is less waste to process or bag while waiting to be composted and attract pests,” says Fraser Rieley. , director of the London-based Charity Company.

Like Perks, he says the partnership aligns with the store’s core values: sustainability, efficiency and mutually beneficial relationships with suppliers.

Although they now make other cosmetic products from various beverage and food by-products, recycled coffee grounds remain a major focus. And recycled is the key word here— they take potential waste— wet slurry floors – to do something better (rather than something of equal or lesser quality to the material used). In this case, the end product is actually better than the beans, even before they get into the coffee, according to Anna.

“It works great because the quality of the coffee is not depleted during the brewing process. And antioxidants, which fight free radicals [that contribute to aging skin] in brewed coffee have a higher content than in fresh beans. So we can do a good thing for the environment by minimizing what goes to the landfill, but we also create a higher value product, ”she says.

UpCircle has collected 350 tonnes of coffee grounds since its inception in 2015. Based on the company’s growth model, Brightman’s Project, the operation will save an additional 1,000 tonnes over the next five years.

There are two products that contain recycled coffee grounds: face and body scrubs; each scrub alone is made with the equivalent of four shots of espresso. And this caffeine has benefits for the skin: it has lightening effects and reduces inflammation and redness.

They also make eye creams and face serums, which are derived from oil extracted from the soil with benefits such as reducing puffiness and tightening the skin.

“We wanted to find as many ways to get coffee by-products into our lines as possible. But we had to think about how we were using it. You don’t want marc on your eyes, but the oil extract works well, ”says Anna.

The products were launched in ULTA Beauty stores after the sister and brother met buyers from the large retail chain at a trade show in 2019 and introduced them to them. They are now sold in 740 ULTA stores; at Whole Foods, online pharmacy company Pharmica, Nordstrom Rack, eco-beauty retailer Credo, and Anthropologie.

It’s the short story of how the small business made a name for itself out of spent coffee grounds. UpCircle now works with over 10 nutrient rich by-products and ingredients. They use processed chai spices to make soaps. They use chamomile stems to make toner. And they take the water left over from the juice to make all kinds of products like hand and body shower gel made from recycled kiwi water and lotion made from recycled bergamot water.

UpCircle was approached by Starbucks and Costa, but is currently focusing on independent cafes.

“We love the face-to-face interaction. Plus, we put our whole heart and soul into it, and independent cafes have the same level of care and concern as we do. This gives us the assurance that they will always use the highest quality ingredients and that they come from ethical sources, ”says Anna.

Headquartered in London, UpCircle has warehouses in Europe and New Jersey. Manufacturing is outsourced, but the Brightmans say they have close ties with these partners.

“We have been working with the same manufacturers from the start. It takes trial and error. We had to refine the process over and over again to find a method that worked, and then we had to evolve. No one else did that, so we had to have manufacturers ready to work with us and start over whenever needed, ”says Anna.

The pandemic threw another curve ball, but the young entrepreneurs have managed to triple their team and launch seven new products since the COVID hit.

“My brother and I worked seven days a week and solved some serious issues, as a lot of cafes were located in tourist areas and closed, so we couldn’t get any land,” says Anna.

They pivoted, heading to residential areas for new supplies. And the plan is to grow more this year.

UpCircle plans to launch five products before Christmas and sell primarily to hotels and boutiques. The next project, funded in part by a grant from the UK government, will be to make bath products, like salts and bombs, infused with petals left by weddings and other events.

The two co-founders think they are in the right place.

“The world has finite resources, and the minute we use them up at a frightening rate… Cosmetic brands that extend the lifecycle of things that are already in circulation are the future,” says William.

“At UpCircle, we prove that we can create high-performance and competitively priced products from recycled ingredients and, therefore, demonstrate more broadly than the beauty industry can become much less useless, ”he says.


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