Heroes

Students have designed an amazing new afterlife for our leftover coffee grounds.

If coffee makes your mornings way better, just look at what your leftover coffee grounds can do.

Students have designed an amazing new afterlife for our leftover coffee grounds.
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Gates Foundation: The Story of Food

For many of us, coffee is essentially magic.

You buy it, you brew it, you drink it — it never lets you down. You get that nice little caffeine buzz going, and you're instantly launched into "I can do anything!" mode.

But have you ever thought about where your leftover coffee grounds go when you're done with them?


Some people compost; others choose the trash. Or, you know, some people find ways to save lives with their grounds.

Students from the University of Toronto are using coffee grounds to create an alternative to firewood for women and children in refugee camps.

Those coffee grounds you had from last week = a burnable log that helps kids? Yes. It's called Moto.

The Moto log! Image via Moto, used with permission.

Moto's aim is to eliminate women and children from having to leave their campsites to search for firewood in what can be dangerous situations. In refugee camps, women and children are known to walk many miles very early in the morning to find enough flammable materials to cook breakfast. This puts them at high exposure of the risk of rape and sexual attack from local militia and men living near their camps, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

With Moto, they won't have to travel at all.

"As soon as they're out of the camp, they're unsafe and that leaves them open to assault," Sam Bennett, one of the founders of Moto, told CBC Toronto. "[Moto] prevents the dangers associated with that, but also frees women up to spend time doing other things, whether that's trying to find another source of revenue or spending time educating their kids."

Looking for firewood. Image via Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images.

So, how exactly do coffee grounds become fuel?

A team of MBA and engineering students from the University of Toronto came up with a simple recipe: They made a burnable log by mixing dried-out coffee grounds, paraffin wax, and sugar and baking it in a loaf pan. That's it!

According to CBC Toronto, the team is currently getting coffee grounds from three participating coffee chains in the local area. But they'll be looking for a major partnership when they scale up in size.

Right now, the logs can burn for nearly 90 minutes and can be used for cooking, heating — pretty much anything firewood can do. The team hopes to increase the length of burn time in future versions of the product.  

Moto founders: Matthew Frehlich, Sam Bennett, Lucy Yang, Gowtham Ramachandran, and Lucas Siow.

The simplicity of the logs shows promise for its future, and they did that on purpose so the logs eventually can be produced locally.

In addition to helping keep women and children safer, Moto helps protect the local firewood supply (aka trees!).

There's rampant deforestation in and around refugee camps that we rarely hear about. The UNHCR points to how wood consumption in camps is greatly exceeding what nature is capable of replenishing — and that puts everyone in danger.

With Moto, they won't have to rely only on wood.

Image via iStock.

These burnable logs have the potential to decrease waste, help reduce hunger, protect forests, and keep women and kids safer.

They can create less food waste by reusing coffee grounds and help the environment by eliminating the need to cut down trees. The logs reduce hunger because they can be used as fuel for cooking and provide warmth and light in unstable areas. And they open up more opportunities for women and children, empowering them and keeping them safer.

It's truly a full-circle approach at making the world better — and one that we can all play a role in.

Though they're not at the level of commercial production yet, the Moto team will compete for the Hult Prize in March 2017, a global competition with a first-place prize of $1 million to continue their social venture and ensure Moto's presence in sub-Saharan African refugee camps. Good luck to them; they're onto something big.

How cool is it to think that the coffee you're already drinking every day could be used to help someone cook dinner for their family on the other side of the world?

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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