Starbucks Hong Kong will turn its used coffee and pastries into plastic

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Landfill-bound waste and nonrenewable energy sources are two problems that are foremost in any environmentalist's mind. As an aspiring environmentalist myself, I see huge chains like Starbucks as part of the problem, not the solution. So imagine my surprise when I heard that Starbucks Hong Kong will start recycling its used coffee grounds and uneaten pastries, and turn them into useful materials once more.

Turning food items into other useful, biodegradable materials is not a new idea—corn has been used for such purposes for quite a while—but usually these food items are grown especially for these uses, which somewhat defeats the point. Using a new process developed by Carol S. K. Lin at the City University of Hong Kong, waste such as stale baked goods can be turned into something completely new. In a demonstration of the new technology, the university transformed food waste from its cafeteria into new, biodegradable materials.

As pointed out by Popular Science, Lin, working as part of a nonprofit research group, has teamed up with Starbucks, and will now turn the coffee chain's waste into a substance called succinic acid. Succinic acid can be used as a base for numerous other products, such as plastic, laundry detergents, and even medicine.

By mixing the used coffee grounds and pastries with a special kind of fungus, the carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars. Bacteria then turn these sugars into succinic acid. With Starbucks Hong Kong alone producing 5000 tons of used grounds and uneaten bakery items every year, one can only imagine the amount of waste generated by Starbucks worldwide.

Currently, this venture is only happening in Hong Kong, but with some luck and funding, the process could expand to Starbucks outlets all over the world, and, one hopes, to other chains as well. So the next time you throw away a half-eaten donut, think of all the things it can be when it grows up!

This story, "Starbucks Hong Kong will turn its used coffee and pastries into plastic" was originally published by TechHive.

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