Starbucks is partnering with a Japanese contact lens manufacturer to patent a fermentation process that converts spent coffee grounds into feed for livestock among Starbucks’ own Tokyo market dairy suppliers.
Nagoya-based Menicon Inc. says the research with Starbucks represents an offshoot from the company’s three-year-old research into finding new uses for rice straw, which it is exploring as a contact lens material. The companies have been delivering spent wet coffee grounds from Starbucks retail stores in Tokyo on trucks returning to the coffee company’s distribution centers. Menicon says the fermented grounds are then being incorporated into feed for cattle within Starbucks’ dairy supplier network.
The companies have not shared the specifics of the technology, which they says is new, but coffee grounds have been explored as a livestock feed application since at least the 1970s, when a study showed that grounds had largely negative effects on digestibility and diuretics among cattle. The United States Environmental Protection Agency says coffee grounds are generally not acceptable as feed content for nutritional reasons, saying only, “Regulations vary from state to state on what types of food discards can be used to feed animals. Coffee grounds and foods with high salt content are usually not accepted, as they can be harmful to livestock.”
Menicon says its new technology, which involves lactic acid fermentation, when applied to feed results in lower somatic cell counts in milk production. Typically, in the United States and throughout the world, dairy producers are paid premiums for milk that has lower white blood cell counts.
The company also says the project is only viable logistically because of the high concentrations of Starbucks stores in Tokyo. “Obviously, there is no environmental benefit to trucking wet coffee grounds halfway across the country,” it said in an announcement May 2. “Viability meant having enough raw material available within a short drive by truck to run a dedicated production line.”