Starbucks (specifically Starbucks Hong Kong) will be financially funding and donating coffee grounds–the franchise surely has no shortage of any–to researchers at the City University of Hong Kong. The researchers aim to work on a finding a way to turn food waste into useful things by working on a new ‘biorefinery.’ It has been estimated that Starbucks Hong Kong produces 5,000 tons of bakery waste and coffee grounds annually, and biorefinery would help turn food waste (mainly corn, sugar cane and other plant-based material) into an ingredient for making plastics, laundry detergents and other products.
In a press release, Carol S. K. Lin, Ph.D., who led the team of researchers, shared:
“We are developing a new kind of biorefinery, a food biorefinery, and this concept could become very important in the future, as the world strives for greater sustainability. Using corn and other food crops for bio-based fuels and other products may not be sustainable in the long-run. Concerns exist that this approach may increase food prices and contribute to food shortages in some areas of the world. Using waste food as the raw material in a biorefinery certainly would be an attractive alternative.”
Wondering how the food biorefinery process works? According to the press release, “[the process] involves blending the baked goods with a mixture of fungi that excrete enzymes to break down carbohydrates in the food into simple sugars. The blend then goes into a fermenter, a vat where bacteria convert the sugars into succinic acid. Succinic acid topped a U.S. Department of Energy list of 12 key materials that could be produced from sugars and that could be used to make high-value products ― everything from laundry detergents to plastics to medicines.”
The environmental benefit of this process is clear: It will reduce the amount of trash disposed on our planet. This would, in turn, reduce incineration and thereby reduce the amount of pollutants into the atmosphere. Another added benefit is that bio-plastics made from bakery waste reduce the need of traditional plastics that are made using petroleum–a nonrenewable fossil fuel.
And if you think the biorefinery process is exclusively for bakery waste, think again! Lin has successfully implemented the technology to reuse waste from her university’s cafeteria.
Should this process become successful, the environmental benefits could be significant. The Starbucks franchise alone has over 16,850 shops in 40 countries and the waste from all the franchises could create a boatload of bioplastics. If other major food franchises around the world were to get on board, then just imagine the benefits on our environment!