It’s difficult to be environmentally conscious in the time of the coronavirus. But there’s good news on the plastics front, and that good news is coffee. Scientists have found a way to transform used coffee grounds into eco-friendly bio-degradable plastic.
As reported by New Atlas, researchers from Yokohama National University in Japan led by Associate Professor Izuru Kawamura have found a way to mine used coffee grounds for cellulose used to make cellulose nanofiber, a key component in the bio-degradable plastics. Recently published in the scientific journal Cellulose, their findings represent a “new non-wood” source of cellulose nanofiber that is “obtainable in large amounts worldwide.”
To do this, they looked to something called catalytic oxidation, an already-existent processed used to create, among other things, plastic precursors. As the name suggests, the process involves applying a catalyzing agent to oxidize the walls of coffee cells to create the cellulose nanofiber. The researchers found that the nanofiber created during this catalytic oxidation “were found to have a desirable uniform structure.” The produced cellulose nanofiber could then be mixed with the polymer polyvinyl alcohol to create a biodegradable plastic.
Per the article, coffee grounds are an ideal source for cellulose nanofiber, not simply because it would often find its way to a landfill otherwise, but because “approximately half of their weight and volume is made up of cellulose.” And the researchers already have an idea of what the first products to be made with this first-of-its-kind plastic should be; it’s very on brand.
“Now, more and more restaurants and cafes have been banned from using single-use straws,” says Kawamura. “Following that movement, we aim to make a transparent disposal coffee cup and straw with an additive comprising cellulose nanofibers from spent coffee grounds.”
If applied on a global scale, these findings could be an environmentally-friendly double whammy, taking a waste product out of the landfills and using it to create a substitute for another product that often finds its way into the garbage. So for those of you who, like me, are somewhat troubled by the amount of additional waste they are creating while sheltering at home, make yourself another cup of coffee. It could one day become the plastic your groceries are delivered in.