Refining Starbucks

Refining Starbucks

Researchers at the City University of Hong Kong, working with The Climate Group and Starbucks Hong Kong, have converted coffee grounds and stale pastry into plastic’s chemical components. The demonstration project used a small biorefinery rig sufficient for “proof of concept.” The process uses enzymes from fungi to break the waste’s carbohydrates into sugars and ferment them into succinic acid, which can be used to make many things, such as pharmaceutical additives, detergent, solvents, polymers, mulch films, rubbish bags, flushable hygiene products, and artificial sweetener.

Other biorefinery efforts produce chemicals and synthetic fuels with corn, distillers grain or soybeans, but it  seems wasteful to do this with fresh agricultural products. Americans generate 250 million tons of garbage each year. North America throws out 40% of its food, and the only other people harvesting it are dumpster-divers. So turning wasted food into plastic seems wise, especially since so much of our food these days tastes like plastic to begin with.


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Image (“Urban Breakfast, after William Harnett”) by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht,

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