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Biorefinery Turning Starbucks’ Food Waste Into New Products

Starbucks waste

Over the past couple of years, Starbucks has made some serious changes in the name of sustainability. Their latest effort is aimed at tackling their significant portion of the 1.3 billion tons of food that are dumped into landfills around the world every year.

The coffee company is working with biorefinery scientists to transform food waste from its stores into a key ingredient used to make bio-plastics, laundry detergents, and various other everyday products. Through this process, Starbucks hopes to put tons of old coffee grounds and stale bakery items to good use.

“Our new process addresses the food waste problem by turning Starbucks’ trash into treasure — detergent ingredients and bio-plastics that can be incorporated into other useful products,” said Carol S. K. Lin, Ph.D., head of the biorefinery research team. “The strategy reduces the environmental burden of food waste, produces a potential income from this waste and is a sustainable solution.”

The scheme was launched with the help of The Climate Group and the City University of Hong Kong, where Lin conducts her lab work. The Climate Group will first apply the technology at Starbucks Hong Kong, and Starbucks will donate a portion of the proceeds from each purchase of the “Care for Our Planet Cookies” gift set.

The team is coming up with technology based on previous research that has turned sugar cane, corn, and other plant-based products into a variety of ingredients for bio-based fuels and other products. Lin describes it as a “food biorefinery” and says the “concept could become very important in the future, as the world strives for greater sustainability.”

Since there are many concerns that using corn and other crops for biofuel will cause food prices to rise and be highly unsustainable in the long run, using food waste is an even better way to solve two problems with one effort. The impact from this could be huge, with Starbucks Hong Kong alone putting nearly 5,000 tons of used grounds and stale food to good use every year. Rather than incinerating it, composting it, or dumping it in a landfill, it will cut down on pollutants and go into useful products.

Image CC licensed by Kai Hendry: Starbucks waste

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