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Waste Not
Combating Food Waste with Coffee-Based Biofuel, Edible Plates

British coffee drinkers can now support biofuel production on their morning commutes. Network Rail, the company owning and operating Britain’s stations announced a partnership Tuesday with bio-bean, a company recycling waste coffee grounds into carbon-neutral fuel.

Following a successful trial at London’s Victoria and Waterloo stations, the scheme will be introduced at Network Rail’s six largest stations, which generate nearly 700 tons of coffee waste annually. Instead of sending the grounds to landfill, generating roughly 5,000 tons of carbon emissions, the waste will now produce over 650 tons of biofuel — enough to power 1,000 homes a year.

David Biggs, managing director of property at Network Rail, said the new program will save the company money. “It’s good news that our stations are cutting their carbon footprint while also saving passengers and taxpayers money. The new solution is cheaper than sending the waste to landfill, which means we can invest more in making the railway better for the four million people who travel by rail each day,” he said.

While recycling coffee beans may seem trivial, bio-bean CEO Arthur Kay put the value of his company’s work in context: “The UK generates over 500,000 tons of waste coffee grounds each year, costing the coffee industry almost £80 million in waste disposal fees,” he said. “Bio-bean recycles waste coffee grounds into advanced biofuels at an industrial scale, creating local, sustainable green energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.”

Biofuel innovations and processes have exploded in recent years, furthered by commitments from major airlines to use more sustainable fuels. For example, Boeing recently partnered with several airlines to develop a sustainable aviation biofuel supply chain in the UAE. Responding to the demand for biofuels, the first commercial-scale biofuel facility opened in the United States late last year.

Meanwhile, Italian designers recently developed a series of plates made entirely from food waste. Applying high pressure to food waste and potato starch creates the plates, suitable for holding dry food. When wet, the plates can be reused as fertilizer.

Edoardo Perri of Whomade, the design firm credited with the plates, told PSFK they wanted to change common conceptions of waste:

“We wanted to provoke a new thinking, to twist the common mindset about what actually waste is or is not,” he said. “In nature, there’s no waste, basically, and what is food waste for humans is probably precious food/energy for other beings. We wanted to highlight such cyclic food-scape, where the focus would be on giving a new quality to what’s normally considered waste.”

Food waste around the world is one of our most pressing issues; nearly a third of all food produced — over 1.3 billion tons per year — is wasted, according to the FAO. Potential solutions continue to emerge from every sector and industry throughout the developed world — from products, mobile apps and consumer campaigns, to new business models, legislation and industry-wide collaborations.


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