Food waste is forever a hot topic, but statistics on the amount of waste generated by the drinks industry are often overlooked. Soggy coffee grinds fill office rubbish bins, and half-squeezed lemons pile up in cocktail bars across the world. All this waste builds up and adds substantially to the £13bn worth of yearly food waste in the UK, and the $680bn lost in industrialised countries annually.

Several enterprising drinks companies are looking to use that waste for good. Putting food and drink waste to use in the beverage industry could prove to be an environmentally-responsible, not to mention profitable, move for the sector.

Coffee-fuelled buses

In November 2017, global energy giant Shell announced a collaboration with Bio-Bean, a start-up established in 2013 to industrialise the recycling of waste coffee grounds, to power London buses from coffee waste. The UK consumes over 400 billion cups of coffee a year, resulting in 500,000 tonnes of wasted coffee grounds. Bio-Bean collects this discarded coffee from offices, shops and factories and processes it into solid and liquid fuel options.

The Shell partnership focuses on the production of B20 biofuel, an alternative to diesel. 20% of the B20 fuel is made up of a bio-component created with coffee oil. The fuel is being added to the London bus fuel supply chain as an eco-alternative to traditional pollutants.

“Our Coffee Logs have already become the fuel of choice for households looking for a high-performance, sustainable way to heat their homes – and now, with the support of Shell, bio-bean and Argent Energy have created thousands of litres of coffee-derived B20 biodiesel,” commented Bio-Bean founder Arthur Kay earlier this month.

Wastewater power

Fruit juice production generates millions of gallons of wastewater. The manufacture of juice requires that all fruits be washed thoroughly to avoid contamination of the end-product, but what happens to all that dirty water once the process is complete?

Researchers from Sao Paulo State University’s Center for Monitoring and Research of the Quality of Fuels, Biofuels, Crude Oil and Derivatives completed a research project using wastewater produced in orange processing to make hydrogen, which they were able to use for power generation.

Wastewater from juice production contains around 12 grams of sugar per litre. Bacteria in the water breaks down this sugar, producing hydrogen. The research team created a reactor to capture the hydrogen by-product, and was able to generate power at a small scale – enough for the fruit juice factory itself. Hydrogen energy is currently costly, but as the technology develops, wastewater power could end up being an eco-friendly option for producers.

Closed loop cocktails

The cocktail industry generates a huge amount of waste. Unused garnishes and waste fruit rinds build up, destined for the bin. All this rubbish is ecologically wasteful and is incredibly costly to bar-owners. Several experts are hoping to change this with ‘closed loop cocktails’ – or cocktails that use the waste naturally generated by the industry.

Mr Lyan is a UK-based drinks company started by Ryan Chetiyawardana – the eponymous Mr Lyan – that makes cocktails using the waste material that would traditionally be thrown away by bar-staff. The White Lyan, one of the company’s London bars, prides itself on using no perishables at all, instead using distillates and syrups developed in-house, often from waste material. One example is the use of pre-sliced cucumbers for gin & tonics, which are turned into cucumber honey syrup for new drinks.

Zero-waste cocktails are becoming more popular among the world’s bartenders, thanks in part to the efforts of innovators like Trash Tiki – a pop-up platform developed by London bartenders that seeks to create cocktail recipes using ingredients that would otherwise be thrown in the bin, as well as educating the world’s bartenders on unnecessary waste.