Used Coffee Proving Fertile Grounds for Sustainability

by | Dec 19, 2013

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coffeeStarbucks, Nestle and the University of Cincinnati are among the organizations turning spent coffee grounds into bioplastics, laundry detergents and biodiesel, The Guardian reports.

Starbucks currently purchases around 400 million pounds of coffee a year and is working on turning the used grounds, along with its bakery waste, into laundry detergents, bioplastics and other products.

The coffee giant is donating the waste to a research project at the City University of Hong Kong. Researchers blend the grounds and baked goods with fungi that break down the carbohydrates into simple sugars that can the be processed into succinct acid, a key ingredient in many products including bioplastics and laundry detergents.

Nestle, which has been burning waste coffee to make energy for decades, now uses it as a heat source for cooking food products at 22 of its 28 coffee factories. Coffee grounds fulfill all of the “actual energy needs” of two of Nestle’s newest coffee factories in Vietnam and China, the company says.

The University of Cincinnati is researching how to use spent grounds as a feedstock for biodiesel. Researchers at the school, who sourced the grounds from an on-campus Starbucks branch, found that grounds are comprised on average 11 to 20 percent oil, roughly the same as the amount of oil found in other more traditional feedstocks, The Guardian reports.

The students are also investigating how to use grounds in activated carbon air and water filters. Business students on campus are currently trying to patent the process in hopes of starting an industry.

Mars Drinks, which makes Flavia coffee, and TerraCycle have a partnership that aims to recycle all elements of the coffee-making process.

In December 2011, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters announced that it was working with University of North Dakota researchers and bioenergy specialist Wynntryst LLC on a project aimed at using the waste from its coffee processing plant to produce energy. The university’s Energy & Environmental Research Center and the two Vermont-based companies said they would develop a gasification power system fueled by coffee residues, plastic packaging, paper, cloth, burlap and Keurig single-serve plastic cups.

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