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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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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