Coffee grounds from cafés are part of the 1.3 billion tons of food-waste that are dumped into landfills and wasted around the world every year. But researchers from the City University of Hong Kong are collaborating with Starbucks Hong Kong—which alone produces more than 5,000 tons of food waste per year—to develop a food bio-refinery that will use fungi and bacteria to convert food waste into raw materials used to make detergents, plastics, and even medicine, the researchers reported at this year’s National meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia.
“The strategy reduces the environmental burden of food waste, produces a potential income from this waste, and is a sustainable solution,” said lead researcher Carol Lin in a press release.
When built, the new bioreactor will mix the food waste with a number of fungal species that break down the carbohydrates into simple sugars. The product would then be fed into a fermenter containing bacteria that convert the sugars into materials like succinic acid, an ingredient used to make plastic. The carbon dioxide produced would be reused in the refining process.
While tested on a small scale, the researchers plan to scale up the process and have applied for funding to test the pilot bioreactor in Germany.