Interview Rotterzwam, how to make a company out of waste?

Rotterzwam is a company dealing with waste to create new products. In this case coffee is used for growing oyster mushrooms. What can they tell us about the problems they faced during their startup and how do they see the transition happening in Texel.


Interview of a company (Rotterzwam)

Interview conducted with Sandra de Haan, her job is to carry out Rotterzwam and is involved in the educational projects of Rotterzwam.

Main question:

How could a company make profit from waste?

Sub questions:

What kind of waste are you dealing with?

What we do is taking coffee residue and using it for growing oyster mushrooms. The residue is collected from small coffee cafes in the neighbourhood. For growing the oyster mushrooms we mix the coffee residu with the shells of the coffee beans which we retain from coffee roasters. The complete cycle can be seen on the image.

How did you come up with the idea of starting a company around waste?

Our idea is grown from the Blue Economy movement of Gunter Pauli. Our vision is: From waste reduction to food production.

We had the idea for our company, but then we had to make it happen. We started a crowdfunding campaign to get the fundings for our company. This was in february 2014. We got through our crowdfunding campaign and started to produce the oyster mushrooms in the old swimming pool (Tropicana) in Rotterdam. Our whole vision is to have everything we need locally. Therefore we needed to find partners in the neighbourhood. We searched for a cafe that could deliver the coffee. After we managed to get our own production going we wanted to enable people to grow mushrooms themselves. Therefore we designed the growkits. The growkit consists of a bucket where people can put in their own coffee. The buckets come from a injection molder that wanted to throw them away. The wrapping is designed in a way that it fits different kinds of buckets. It is printed on recycled paper with biobased ink. After a while we found out that while creating the wrapping a lot of paper was left over. We asked the printer for the paper and now we put it in our worm bins so it will be made into compost. We try to incorporate as much as possible.

Have you ever been on Texel?

No I haven’t actually.

Do you think your way of business management could be possible on an island like Texel?

Our business set-up is made in such a way that it uses local partners to create a profitable company. Growing oyster mushrooms from coffee will most definitely be possible on an island like Texel. Especially because coffee is drunk everywhere. Next to that because of the agricultural environment of Texel the leftovers could easily be used as compost in the area. For the growing of the oyster mushrooms you need different things. We use the leftovers of the swimming pool in our process, like the cloth hangers for the mushroom bags. In Texel they should look to the available resources and make it happen in a different way. The idea is not to copy our way of working, but to apply it to your own situation.

How did you experience the transition of showing people that something can be done with their waste?

Our philosophy is spreading the word as well: ‘Samenwerken is het nieuwe concurreren

Wij geloven in inspireren. Niet in concurreren. Laten we met z’n allen de wereld nóg mooier maken!’ Which means; ‘Working together is the new competition. We believe in inspiring. Not in competing. Let’s make the world even more beautiful together!’ We hope we also inspire our partners in creating a circular economy for themselves. To enable this we started the Blue City, where we want new entrepreneurs to have the opportunity to start a company like ours themselves.

Do you still have waste yourself, and if so, what do you do with it?

Do you separate this all?

Yes we do still have waste. At a certain moment the bags don’t produce mushrooms anymore, the left overs of the coffee residu we put with the compost. The bags are still waste, we put them with the plastic bin. After realising that the printer also creates a lot of waste we asked him for the leftovers of the paper and we also put them in our compost bins. These bins are filled with worms who dispose it. We try to have as less waste as possible and if we have waste we want it to be organic. The plastic bins aren’t organic of course, but they will be thrown away without being used if we don’t use them, so although it is not sustainable plastic we do something good.

Would you behave different knowing Texel is striving for complete waste separation?

I would continue the way we do. The key is to get your own business running and use it to inspire others. We started the Blue City to be able to encourage other entrepreneurs and spread the message. The social part is very important. We try to work together as good as possible with businesses in the neighbourhood.

What would drive you to adapt to Texels ambitions? Money, regulations, generosity?
We have the ambitions for ourselves of course. And the fact that it is our project helps a lot of course. We are people that like to set up a project like this. The important thing is that it is possible to do this. We used crowdfunding to get our money to start. This would also be possible in Texel. Next to that we were very lucky that we could use this location. So support from the government when it comes to location would be very helpful. At least that will make it easier for small companies to start, that is also why we want to share our location with other entrepreneurs, they don’t have to search for a location from scratch.

In what time do you think it will be possible for texel to completely reuse their waste?

That is a difficult question. That depends on the people that are working to get it done. What we notice during our search for coffee is that a lot of people are willing to cooperate. This is also happening with the mushrooms. Only one of the many supermarkets and restaurants I spoke to turned us down. The key is to have very good products for it in return. In our case we produce very good quality of mushrooms. But the suppliers of the coffee don’t notice this necessarily. They just help us out because we make it that easy for them to do so. I think that is also the key. Don’t ask too much effort from the people.

Do you think Texel could work as an inspiration to others to also completely reuse their waste?

Yes I definitely think so. It is easiest to inspire people when they see it happening closeby. So it might also be difficult because Texel is an island and it is different from the mainland. But you will always have people who find reasons to question your sustainable plans.

How do you think, knowing a little bit about waste treatment, a transition could be made also taking into account the inorganic waste?

As you said yourself the separation is very important to start with. This will make it easier to use. As said before we use only organic inc. By asking the producer for it, he isn’t able to do differently so this is also a good thing. If the people at the end of the chain only ask for sustainable products you force the companies to use sustainable techniques and materials for example.

What role is their for companies to play?
Companies have a very big role in this. This could be in very different levels. The products they buy themselves should be sustainable and the products they produce should be sustainable. There are a lot of things to improve in their. They can be forced to move towards more sustainability as said before by the people buying products from them. This could also be a way to inspire them to tackle other parts of their company.