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New Technique Could Turn Day Old Pastries Into Plastic, Slight Upgrade From Current Cardboard State

We’ve all tested that el cheapo “Day Old Baked Goods” basket at the cafe, and most of us have been burned by it, whether it’s with a chocolate chip cookie that goes to dust in your mouth or a scone you could use to hammer nails. Researchers at the University of Hong Kong, working in conjunction with coffee giant Starbucks, have developed a new use for pastries that have overstayed their welcome. By treating the pastries in a bio-refinery, lead researcher Carol S. K. Lin and her team break down the baked goods into their most basic forms — strands of simple sugar molecules. Those simple sugars can then get a new lease on life as bioplastics or detergents, turning food bound for the dumpster into your next plastic water cup.

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The bio-refinery works by dumping old stale food, coffee grounds, and other food waste into a mixture of fungi that will eat anything and excrete simple sugars, which in turn can be turned into a surprisingly wide variety of products. After science has done its work, though, the miracle of marketing takes over, working to convince consumers that these plastics are made out of “food waste” (mostly true) rather than “fungus poop” (definitely true).

We would take a moment to point out one thing, however, which is that in our not insignificant experience in food service, many of those day old pastries aren’t going to waste. Stuff that doesn’t sell regularly goes home with employees to make a meal for the household, while a great many bakeries and cafes, both large and small, have agreements with local food banks, homeless shelters, and other organizations where a free meal — even one that’s a little stale — doesn’t go amiss. Pret a Manger, for example, donated an estimated 400,000 pounds of food to organizations that feed families in need across the country last year. While this is a neat way to potentially craft more environmentally friendly and sustainable plastics, we’d hate to see that good deed tempered by taking food out of the mouths of folks who’ve fallen on hard times.

(via PhysOrg)

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