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Biorefinery finds treasure in spent coffee grounds and stale bakery goods

With 1.3 billion tons of food trashed, dumped in landfills and otherwise wasted around the world every year, scientists today described development and successful laboratory testing of a new “biorefinery” intended to change food waste into a key ingredient for making plastics, laundry detergents and scores of other everyday products.

Their report on a project launched in cooperation with the Starbucks restaurant chain―concerned with sustainability and seeking a use for spent coffee grounds and stale bakery goods―came at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. Thousands of scientists and others are here this week for the meeting of the world’s largest scientific society, which features almost 8,600 reports on new discoveries in science.

“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,” said Carol S. K. Lin, Ph.D., who led the research team. “The strategy reduces the environmental burden of food waste, produces a potential income from this waste and is a sustainable solution.”

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