A Macquarie University PhD student has come up with a way to turn coffee waste into biodegradable plastic coffee cups. Dominik Kopp has developed a method to turn coffee grounds into lactic acid, which can then be used to produce biodegradable plastics.

“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,” said Kopp. “In Sydney alone, over 920 cafes and coffee shops produced nearly 3,000 tonnes of waste coffee grounds every year. “Ninety-three percent of this waste ends up in landfill, where it produces greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.”

However, 50 percent of coffee grounds are made up of sugars, which can be converted into valuable bio-based chemicals, or chemicals derived from plant- or animal-based feedstocks rather than crude oil.

“Our group is looking for new ways to convert biowaste—whether that be agricultural, garden, paper or commercial food waste—into valuable raw materials that can be used to produce high-value compounds in more environmentally-friendly ways,” said Associate Professor Anwar Sunna, Kopp’s supervisor and head of the Sunna Lab which is using the rapidly growing field of synthetic biology to address biotechnology and biomedical challenges.

Kopp was awarded the INOFEA Early Career Award for Applied Biocatalysis or Nanobiotechnology for the poster he presented on his research at the 18th European Congress on Biotechnology last month.

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