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Sierra Daily

Aug 22, 2012

New Life for Old Coffee

Coffee buttershug569 iStock_000001240211XSmallJust what the sustainably-living latte-lover wants to hear: ScienceDaily reports on successful testing of a “biorefinery” that turns coffee grounds and stale baked goods into key ingredients in everyday products like plastics and laundry detergent.

An effort co-sponsored by Starbucks in Hong Kong, the news about the waste-based process was unveiled at a meeting of the American Chemical Society this week in Philadelphia. According to a American Chemical Society press release, lead researcher Carol S. K. Lin, Ph.D Lin said the food biorefinery 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.”

To help jump-start the research, Starbucks Hong Kong donated a portion of the proceeds from each purchase of its "Care for Our Planet Cookies" gift set.

"Our new process addresses the food waste problem by turning Starbucks' trash into treasure,” says Lin. And who knows? A garbage-fueled Mr. Fusion Hone Energy Reactor could be the next step.

Image by iStock/buttershug569.

 HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

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