Soon the spent grounds used to make your Starbucks espresso could wind up in your next bottle of laundry detergent. With some processing, that is.
According to research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, a new City University of Hong Kong bio-refinery is testing a method of breaking down organic matter and turning it into everyday products like laundry detergent, plastic and more. Hong Kong-based Starbucks stores have agreed to send the lab their spent coffee grounds and stale pastries in an effort to divert some of their food waste.
Hong Kong Starbucks locations produce an estimated 4,500 tons of spent coffee grounds each year, according to an American Chemical Society press release. Some of the waste that would otherwise wind up in landfills, composting operations and incinerators will head directly to the City University lab to find an organic solution to petroleum-based plastics.
The overall goal is to turn the organic waste into succinic acid – an ingredient found in a multitude of household products. It’s created by blending organic food matter with fungi. During the process, carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars that can then be fermented into the acid.
The process of turning organic matter into products like succinic acid is not new. However, often produce like corn is not only grown to be eaten, but specifically cultivated to be turned into plastics or other products. The City University lab, headed up by Carol S.K. Lin, will create succinic acid from foods that simply went uneaten.
“The method isn’t just for bakery waste — Lin has also successfully transformed food wastes from her university’s cafeteria and other mixed food wastes into useful substances with the technology,” the American Chemical Society said in the release.