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article imageCan Starbucks turn old muffins and coffee grinds into detergents?

By Leigh Goessl     Sep 4, 2012 in Environment
Starbucks has been working on a way to convert leftover food items into reusable products, such as laundry detergent. The coffee giant wants to lessen its carbon footprint and become more environmentally friendly with unconsumed food products.
Over the past two years Starbucks has been branching out into various niche markets such as tea-only shops, adding wine and beer to the menu in select markets, and has even invested in juice bars. Now the coffee giant has something new in mind.
The company wants to turn stale muffins and coffee ground leavings into products such as laundry detergent and bio-plastics. According to the Consumerist, Starbucks is piloting a new recycling process that would turn these leftover items into other useful products.
The New York Daily News elaborates on the initiative. According to the Daily News, the Hong Kong Starbucks is "testing out an innovative recycling process" to reuse old food items that would otherwise be incinerated, disposed of in landfills or composted.
Led by scientists from City University of Hong Kong, the group is testing this process at a food "biorefinery". The facility purportedly turns food waste into other useable items. Hong Kong reportedly produces approximately 5,000 tons of used coffee grounds and uneaten baked goods each year that is left as waste.
How it works is that the leftover foods are mixed with a mixture of fungi that break down carbohydrates into simple sugars. Then the blend is left to ferment with some bacteria; this turns the sugars into succinic acid, which is used in a variety of consumer products.
“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,” Carol S. K. Lin, Ph.D., lead in the research team, said in a press release. “The strategy reduces the environmental burden of food waste, produces a potential income from this waste and is a sustainable solution.”
Lin further elaborates:
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.
Starbucks' "biorefinery" project was announced on Aug. 20 and presented at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society which took place at the end of August in Philadelphia, Pa.
More about Starbucks, Carbon footprint, Environmental footprint, Recycling, Detergents
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