Starbucks Wants To Turn Leftover Coffee & Muffins Into Laundry Detergent, Bio-Plastics

Nobody wants stale old muffins and the coffee ground leavings at day’s end, but instead of just dumping that stuff in a landfill, Starbucks says it’s trying out a new recycling process that would turn said items into bio-plastics and laundry detergent. Wiping up those carbon footprints is always a good thing.

The team of scientists at the City University of Hong Kong is working on a food “biorefinery” that changes food waste into things we can actually use, instead of contributing to the world’s garbage problem, reports the New York daily News.

Biorefineries are like their oil counterparts, in that they convert one thing to make it an entirely different product for consumers. Some critics say using raw food sources in this system would drive up the price of food and make it more scarce. However, if you’re simply recycling old food that nobody is going to eat anyway, that argument doesn’t hold.

Here’s how it goes down in the biorefinery process: The old food is mixed with a fungi that works to break down the carbohydrates into simple sugars. That mixture is then fermented in a vat with bacteria that turn the sugars into succinic acid, which is used in many consumer products from plastic to laundry detergent.

It sounds like magic, to us. And if it cleans clothing as well as non-biorefined detergent, even better.

Starbucks turns coffee grinds and old muffins into laundry detergent [New York Daily News]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Ilovegnomes says:

    Now I know what why they looked at me like I was crazy when I asked for their grounds for the garden (they use to have that program in place). They found a way to profit from those leftovers!

    • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

      I used to grab free bags of used grounds and give them to my mom. Unfortunately my mom didn’t care for it much as the grounds were too “acidic” for her plants.

      • chizu says:

        This woman in town talked the local coffee shop into giving her all the coffee ground to make compost. Their deal is that she must come and pick it up at the end of the day (everyday) because they can’t just keep the ground sitting around unattended. Coffee ground is already ground up so it’s really easy to decompose and it makes beautiful compost. I think dumping it directly onto the soil would become too acidic for the plants (unless your plants love acidic soil — such as Azalea, Rhododendron, Hydrangea, etc.). If she has a small space in her yard that gets plenty of sun, I’d suggest her turning it into a compost yard. All her kitch scraps, yard clippings, coffee ground, eggshells, etc. would turn into wonderful compost after 3-6 months (depending on weather, rotation, and what kind of stuff was dumped in there)

        • Ilovegnomes says:

          I use them for my roses and blueberries. They actually liked the Starbucks grounds when I could get them. Just dumped them straight on top of the soil at the watering line. Since the Starbucks near me no longer give out grounds, I’ve switched to a local mom/pop cafe. If I bring them a bucket in the morning, by the late morning, they’ll have it filled full of used grounds.

        • beappleby says:

          Eggshells do not compost. They remain. Maybe if you ground them up first, but otherwise they’re not going anywhere.

          • Random Lurker says:

            Technically they do eventually, but it takes several years, so they’re definately not much good in your typical compost pile. The best way to use eggshells is to crush and bury at the very bottom of a bed you plan to use for vegetables, and let them stay there as they slowly break down. They’re a good natural calcium supplement for the soil, even if they are slow to deliver.

    • Murph1908 says:

      I’ve heard of grounds for divorce, but have never heard of grounds for flowers!

  2. MrMongerty says:

    Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t think that coffee grounds and muffins take a very long time to decompose….. Would the impact of this not be practically nonexistant compared to the impact of all the plastic cups and straws from Starbucks?

    • chizu says:

      Coffee ground actually breaks down pretty quickly — anywhere between 3-6 months depending on site condition. Not to mention as it breaks down, the pile gets finer/smaller so it wouldn’t even realise how much had been put in. Considering how Starbucks and grocery stores have to throw out all their leftover and they can’t even donate them, it’s a really huge waste of food. At least this is turning into something.

    • lasvegasdave says:

      Starbucks is not really concerned about the amount of conventional plastic they dump into landfills every day. Our company produces biodegradable/recyclable cutlery and straws – but despite our efforts to talk with Starbucks – they are not interested -even though our products will cost them less- and can be recycled or will biodegrade in any conventional landfill!

  3. Blueskylaw says:

    Maybe the landfills don’t want stale old muffins and other leftover food from Starbucks, but if I was poor and unemployed I wouldn’t complain if some of that food happened to find its way into my posession.

    • iguana426 says:

      Starbucks DOES donate the pastries etc. that they can’t still sell to food banks. The problem is with the perishable stuff that could make someone sick if they were to eat it, or the things that go bad really quickly. A homeless person is still a person and they don’t want to feed them something that would make them sick. I like this use of the food that is unfit to donate.

      • GreatZimkogway says:

        It’s more that, should someone get sick off of them, donated or given or not, Starbucks would be liable for damages. That’s why they only throw stuff out. If you want to go digging in their trash, well, they threw it out of their possession.

  4. 808 says:

    While the biorefinery idea is intriguing, I wonder why Starbucks is stepping away from immediacy? Transporting leftovers and waste consumes energy and requires storage/conversion space, so this path may not be so green.

    Pastries and such could go to Second Harvest or equivalent. And the free-grounds-for-your-garden program was appreciated and is still missed. Granted, there’s probably not a line-item tax benefit for the grounds, but there almost surely is for the food. Not to mention there’s the whole member-of-the-community cred that Starbucks would get by helping the hungry.

    • iguana426 says:

      see my comment above. I’ve worked for food banks that get a lot of goodies from Starbucks.

      • 808 says:

        It’s good to know that the edible items are going to food banks. The phrase “at day’s end” in the first sentence of the story seemed to indicate otherwise.

        • JJFIII says:

          Food banks do not generally want “at days end” stuff. The issue become food safety on perishable products. Food banks want canned type items that can be stored and used to meet demand. As with most things, this is a test to see if something is feasible and cost effective.

          • DrD2012 says:

            Food Banks are actually taking in more and more perishable items through grocery store food rescue programs. The numbers in my local area are trending toward 50/50 canned and shelf-stable food/perishables.

  5. nolitt242 says:

    Ha. I remember when a friend worked for Starbucks they would toss out the day’s sandwiches and other prepared stuff. Starbucks wouldn’t allow them to take it home, which I felt a bit ridiculous.

  6. Happy Dad says:

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I’ve had coffee and a miffin from that tasted like it was a day old…..the next morning.

  7. Happy Dad says:

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I’ve had coffee and a miffin from that tasted like it was a day old…..the next morning.

  8. voiceofreason says:

    What about the children!

  9. DrPizza says:

    I can recycle those muffins into bacon. No research grant needed. Just feed them to the grateful pig, and when the pig gets big, take it to a butcher.

    Starbucks isn’t smart enough to figure this out?

    • Blueskylaw says:

      Mmmmm, blueberry flavored Grande bacon strips.

    • bbb111 says:

      “I can recycle those muffins into bacon.”

      Restaurants have been doing that for a long time. Or composting. Also, used grease is actually worth money – there have been grease thefts reported in the news (The containers marked “used grease” are being stolen from behind restaurants).

      My city now has a food composting program for residents – they let you put food scraps (even bones and meat) in with the “yard waste.”
      [HINT – store the food scraps in the freezer until pickup day.]

  10. BigHeadEd says:

    That’s nothing. I can turn coffee and muffins into Bio-waste just by consuming them.

  11. bbb111 says:

    A small Oakland company [Back to the Roots] is using coffee grounds from Peet’s Coffee & Tea to make Oyster Mushroom growing kits and “Premium Soil Amendment” made of composted mushrooms and coffee grounds. They expect to reuse 3.6 million pounds of used coffee grounds this year.
    [I am not affiliated with the company, but I ate some Mushrooms grown with their kit in my dinner tonight.]