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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Closed-Loop Upcycling at Its Finest:
Starbucks Now Sourcing Milk from Coffee-Fed Cows

Menicon Co., Ltd., Japan’s leading contact lens manufacturer, isn’t normally associated with milk. But a recent partnership with Starbucks is showcasing the company’s scientific expertise in a new way: Menicon has helped Starbucks to pioneer fermentation technology that now allows coffee grounds from Starbucks stores in the Tokyo area to be converted into feed for local dairy cows that produce the company’s milk.

Starbucks was looking for a better use than compost for the hill of beans its Japanese stores produce every day. Although compost is an impeccably sustainable solution, composting coffee grounds (known as “bean cake”) leaves significant nutritional value unused. And how much more elegant to upcycle it into feed for the cows that make the milk that go in Starbucks coffee?

With the technology in place, there remained the issue of collecting bean cake from 1,000 stores nationwide in a hygienic, regular and economically viable way. Luckily, the intense concentration of Starbucks stores in the Tokyo area was a bonus: Special storage areas were added to the refrigerated trucks that deliver chilled product to each store; once delivered, the usually-empty trucks are now able to back-haul bean cake to Starbucks distribution centers, collecting it at a few points from which the bean recycler can then take it to a plant in the outskirts of Tokyo.

As a result, some of the milk that complements Starbucks beverages in Japan now comes from coffee-fed cows.

In 2013 Menicon and Starbucks, along with Sanyu Plant Service Co., Ltd., jointly applied for a patent on the process used to produce this lactic acid-fermented feed.

For Menicon, this is an important step toward realizing a corporate vision, adopted in 2009, aimed at evolving to become “a world enterprise friendly to people, animals and the environment.”

This isn't Starbucks' first foray into upcycling its coffee grounds: In 2012, the company announced it was funding research in Hong Kong to convert its coffee grounds and leftover bakery goods into bioplastics, laundry detergents and other everyday products.

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