Turning coffee grounds into coffee cups

Coffee grounds could be used to create biodegradable plastic coffee cups thanks to new research from Macquarie University.

The process converts the spent coffee grounds into a lactic acid which is then turned into a plastic, however the method is still being refined by researcher Dominik Kopp.

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Because 50 per cent of coffee grounds are made up of sugars, they can be converted into bio-based chemicals.

The method was inspired by a metabolic pathway that is thought to exist in an evolutionary ancient organism, which lived in hot and extremely acidic environments.

“Australians consume six billion cups of coffee every year, and the coffee grounds used to make these coffees are used only once and then discarded,” says Mr Kopp.

“In Sydney alone, over 920 cafes and coffee shops produced nearly 3,000 tonnes of waste coffee grounds every year.

“Ninety-three per cent of this waste ends up in landfill, where it produces greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.”

Mr Kopp sources the coffee grounds from one of the shops on Macquarie’s campus and took them back to the lab.

“We assembled a synthetic pathway to convert the most abundant sugar in the coffee grounds, mannose, into lactic acid,” he says.

“Lactic acid can be used in the production of biodegradable plastics, offering a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuel-derived plastics.

“You could use such plastics to make anything from plastic coffee cups to yoghurt containers to compost bags to sutures in medicine.”

His next step will be to further refine the conversion pathway and improve the yield of lactic acid.

“I think my project is one of many interesting approaches on how to use synthetic biology in a responsible manner for the development of a more sustainable and greener industry that doesn’t rely on crude oil,” says Dominik.

“The simple idea that we are converting waste into a valuable and sustainable product is extremely exciting!”

War on Waste season 2 fights bottles, straws, e-waste and more

The first episode of Craig Reucassel’s War on Waste season two will broadcast on the ABC at 8:30 pm on Tuesday 24 July.

More than 4.3 million viewers watched the original series in 2017, which sparked one of the ABC’s most successful social media campaigns with a video on dumping edible bananas reaching 20 million views.

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Season two’s first episode will look at new issues around plastic water bottles and straws, and e-waste.

It will also delve deeper into previously discussed issues of food waste and Australia’s recycling crisis.

A giant footprint made of plastic packaging was created on Sydney’s Manly beach to highlight the amount of single-use plastic that ends up in waterways.

With more than 10 million plastic straws being used every day in Australia, Mr Reucassel joins forces with the minds behind the #strawnomore movement to challenge pubs and fast food chains to ban the straw from their venues.

The show will also look at Australia’s fastest growing waste stream, e-waste. With tonnes of discarded computers, mobile phones and electrical goods ending up in landfill, Mr Reucassel highlights the dangers of the toxic elements within them leaching into the environment.

War on Waste season two also sees Mr Reucassel going undercover to expose the amount of food that is wasted when eating at restaurants.

Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association of NSW Executive Director Tony Khoury said the issues of disposable water bottles will be placed under the microscope.

“Last year’s series saw tremendous media coverage extend to disposable coffee cups, single-use plastic bags, household food waste and the wasteful policy of retailers,” he said.

Mr Khoury said collectors and processor can help the war on waste by providing better education for waste generators, provide a range of recycling options, use modern equipment, transport all waste and recyclables to a lawful facility and invest in training for workers.

“We all can lobby the NSW Government to invest more of the $700 million collected from the waste levy into waste management programs and much needed infrastructure to divert more waste from landfill,” he said.

Image credit: ABC

McDonalds join Starbucks consortium to end cup waste

Two of the world’s largest food and beverage retailers will identify and commercialise a recyclable and compostable cup which can be used globally.

The NextGen Cup Challenge aims to offer promising solutions on the recovery of single-use cups, with a focus on the fiber-based hot and cold cup, and working to create a fully recyclable and/or compostable cup in North America.

McDonalds has joined Starbucks, the founding member of the group, to form part of The NextGen Cup Consortium and Challenge. It follows recent commitments by McDonalds and Starbucks to turn to more sustainable packaging solutions.

The $5 million investment by McDonalds brings the total project fund to $10 million, which kicks off in September and invites innovators, entrepreneurs, industry experts, and recyclers to submit their ideas for the next generation of recyclable and/or compostable cups.

Awardees will receive acceleration funding up to $1 million based on key milestones. Up to seven of the awardees will enter a six-month accelerator program to help scale their solutions.

“McDonald’s is committed to using our scale for good to make positive changes that impact our planet and the communities we serve,” said Marion Gross, Senior Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer, McDonald’s USA.

“We are excited to join Starbucks and Closed Loop to help solve this pressing challenge as collaboration is key to finding a scalable, lasting global solution.”

Colleen Chapman, vice president of Global Social Impact focused on sustainability for Starbucks, said that a better cup will benefit the entire industry and the company invite others to join them as we move their efforts forward.

NextGen builds on years of work in the industry and is a critical step in the development of a global end-to-end solution that will potentially allow the 600 billion cups globally to be diverted from landfills and given a second life.

The consortium is building a robust advisory council including leaders in environmental NGOs including WWF, human-centered design, academic leaders, the paper and plastic industry, recyclers, composters, and municipalities to ensure that the work is grounded in the needs of the entire value chain and the cups make it from shelf to consumer and back through the recovery system to another high value use.

“There has never been a greater need to tackle the ways in which we source and recover materials. McDonald’s participation is a strong step forward in building momentum from major brands to come together and develop innovative approaches to materials waste,” said Erin Simon, Director of Sustainability Research and Development (R&D) and Material Science at World Wildlife Fund, U.S.

“Working together across the entire value chain of these major companies will allow us to create a comprehensive and lasting solution to this critical conservation challenge.”

“To date we have received more than 1000 inquiries from companies and individuals interested in participating in the challenge and we anticipate some exciting and impactful proposals,” said Kate Daly, Executive Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners.