A Brew For Your Plants…? Recycling Tea & Coffee Waste In Your Garden

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Brew Organic » A Brew For Your Plants…? Recycling Tea & Coffee Waste In Your Garden


Tea and coffee grounds can both be recycled.  Instead of throwing them in our household rubbish bins to go to landfill, we can use them in many ways.  

Coffee and tea in the garden

Tea and coffee grounds are free organic matter which can be used as fertiliser, mulch or in the compost heap to help our plants flourish.    You don’t get much greener than that!

Using Coffee as a Fertiliser

Coffee grounds from your espresso machine for example, are nitrogen rich and also contain magnesium and phosphorus, all of which are essential plant nutrients.  Using coffee as a fertiliser or mulch when sprinkled over soil, therefore helps feed the plants and helps them grow.  

Before we rush to put heaps of the stuff all over the place though, we do need to be a little careful. Grounds from your coffee maker are not an immediate miracle, they are a slow release fertiliser. 

Also the grounds from your coffee machine can be acidic (although the strength varies), so acid loving plants (like roses, azaleas, Rhododendrons and Hydrangeas) welcome the grounds, but other plants may not thrive. We also need to avoid seeds or new seedlings which can be vulnerable to coffee, because the caffeine inhibits the growth of other plants.  

The best approach is to sprinkle the coffee grounds thinly and mix with soil or other organic matter, rather than spreading them in a thick blanket.  This is especially true if you are adding coffee grounds to the compost around indoor plants.

Particular care is also needed if you have clay soil in your garden.  Coffee grounds from your morning single-serve for example, are very fine particles which tend to lock together. This can form a water barrier and in clay soils could end up with plants not getting enough water.   

A great way to recycle your coffee grounds is probably to put them in your compost heap.  As they are classed as ‘green’, nitrogen rich organic material, they should be mixed with brown organic matter (like leaves or wood cuttings). 

Once blended together the insects and worms in there can chomp away and mix the compost further. Many gardeners say that worms love coffee grounds and if you have a worm bin you can add small quantities to that too.  

Before we leave using coffee grounds in the garden, it is important to mention that ants and slugs don’t much like them.  The grounds don’t really stop these pests, but they make them stop and think. In large doses, coffee grounds can be harmful to pets.  Therefore tipping piles of the stuff onto our flower beds is not a good plan.

Recycling Tea In Your Garden

Now to recycling tea.  Used tea grounds and fresh tea leaves are great for the soil.  Tea contains the big three plant nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – and tannic acid.  

It is a good free fertiliser for sprinkling around container or garden plants, because it creates a more fertile environment and improves soil quality as the leaves decompose.

Tea leaves also improve soil oxygenation and helps the root system of plants. You can gently mix the leaves into the soil or use it in a thicker layer as a mulch.

This all sounds fantastic but there are a couple of areas of caution. 

Tea contains tannic acid which leaches into the soil, so like coffee, tea grounds are best applied directly to the soil only around acid loving plants.  Roses, ferns and tomato plants love it.

Vegetables are quite sensitive to tea and the flavour can be affected by directly applying tea to the soil. Young and growing plants can be also affected by the changes in pH that the acid in directly applied tea leaves bring. 

However, as tea like coffee is great in the compost heap, why not recycle your tea in the compost. You can use compost which includes your used tea leaves, on most plants and even vegetables. 

Can You Recycle Tea bags, coffee pods and coffee filters? 

Most tea bags contain plastic, so unless you have bought a brand that specifically states that the teabag is paper or other biodegradable material, they should not be added to the compost or put around plants.  You can though use them in other ways.

Firstly you can tear the teabag and use the tea inside in the same way as you would loose leaf tea grounds.  Unfortunately if you do this, there is no way of getting around the fact that the torn bag is destined for your rubbish bin and from there to landfill. 

You could though use the entire bag (even if it contains plastic) over the holes in the bottom of plant containers as part of the drainage system.

Drying your tea bags or tea leaf grounds can give them a new lease of life too.  Tea is a natural odour eater like baking soda. You can put dried tea bags or dried and bagged loose leaf grounds around the home wherever you want to absorb unpleasant smells – like in the fridge.

They could also add a slight fragrance in drawers or cupboards. Some people even use them as a clothing dye or to add fragrance to a bath. 

Coffee pods or capsules are really convenient to use but not quite so accommodating to reuse or recycle – and are certainly not as environmentally friendly as roasting your own coffee. They are made from plastic which does not break down and cannot be recycled. If this is a concern to you, there are some biodegradable alternatives which are compatible with some machines, so you could try those and much more aligned with the vegan ethos.  Alternatively single shot, single use recyclable cups of coffee are available.

Coffee filters can be recycled and composted along with the grounds, which is again much more in line with the responsibly farmed coffee you buy. 

When filters are wet they break down fairly quickly, but if they have dried out it takes much longer.  So if you are going to put them in the compost, it is best to do this whilst they are still wet.

Another concern is that many paper coffee filters are bleached.  Some feel that this won’t make any difference by the time you have made your coffee, but others believe bleached coffee filters are best avoided. Unbleached filters are readily available and opting to buy these instead means they are perfectly safe for your compost and more environmentally friendly.


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