Here’s a fact that’s hard to swallow: The world produces, and discards, no less than 16 billion plastic and Styrofoam coffee cups annually. All told, some 500 billion plastic cups are used once and discarded. Gulp!
Here’s worse news: making sufficient coffee to satisfy those cup users with regular coffee, expresso, lattes and an untold of other varieties results in an unimaginable volume of coffee grounds. (The volume truly is ‘unimaginable’ because different preparations require varying amounts of ground beans – translating to an unmeasurable volume of grounds.
For the most part, this huge waste issue largely ignored, or lost in the mind-boggling tonnage of plastic and other type items humans throw away annually.
‘Away’ Doesn’t Exist
(I saw a sign many years ago with an absolute truism more people should keep in mind: There’s no such place as ‘away’!)
In Australia, though, efforts are underway to salvage and recycle coffee grounds… into biodegradable plastic coffee cups. The concept was founded and brought to fruition by Dominik Kopp, at the time a senior at Macquarie University, Sydney. It involves turning the grounds into lactic acid, which then is used to produce disposable cups.
BeverageDaily.com reported that Kopp and other students rescued the grinds, before they were put into the trash stream, from a coffee shop on their university’s campus. Back in the lab, “We assembled a synthetic pathway to convert the most abundant sugar in the coffee grounds, mannose, into lactic acid,” he told the website. Lactic acid, he explained, “can be used in the production of biodegradable plastics, offering a more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to fossil-fuel derived plastics. Kopp had figured that 50% of coffee grounds are sugars, and anticipated – rightly – that a sizable share of that mineral compound would have the potential to be converted into a usable material: A form of plastic.
Aim Was Environment-Saving
“We were looking for new ways to convert biowaste – whether that be agricultural, garden, paper, or commercial food waste – into valuable raw materials that could be used to produce high-value compounds in more environmentally-friendly ways,” said Anwar Sunna, an associate professor of biomedical science and Kopp’s supervisor at the time,” BeverageDaily reported.
“The simple idea that we are converting waste into a valuable and sustainable product is extremely exciting,” Sunna told the trade journal.
A coffee plantation (stock photo)
BeverageDaily.com went on to report that engineers at Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology have been turning used coffee grinds into building materials for roads. The publication also noted that, in 2015, two entrepreneurial health workers left their jobs in Western Australia to form a company that uses formerly-wasted coffee grounds from coffee shops to cultivate mushrooms.
It’s only a matter of time before someone devises a way to use coffee grounds as a form of fertilizer for coffee bean plants – completing the circle.
I’ll sip to that!