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Researchers demonstrate remarkable potential of old coffee grounds in cleaning up toxins contaminating waterways — here's why it's important

The power to create change is right under our noses. In fact, it's in our cups.

The power to create change is right under our noses. In fact, it's in our cups.

Photo Credit: iStock

What if those coffee grounds you toss every morning could help clean up toxic pollution choking our waterways? A new study shows they can do exactly that, according to Anthropocene Magazine.

Researchers at the Federal Technological University of Paraná in Brazil found that coffee grounds can soak up 70% of an aggressive chemical called bentazone from water. Bentazone is an herbicide used on many common crops like beans and potatoes.

The problem is that it easily leaks into waterways and soils. There, it endangers ecosystems and human health, increasing the risk of anemia and thyroid dysfunction, per the Minnesota Department of Health.

But our daily coffee habit might help. The researchers heated coffee grounds to create an ash, then mixed in a couple of chemicals to transform it into a bentazone-absorbing sponge.

In experiments, the coffee sponge removed 70% of the herbicide from water samples, according to the findings, which were published in the Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology. Even better, it allowed sensitive onion plants to grow in the cleaned-up water almost as well as in pure water. Score one for plant power.

Why is this such a win? Because bentazone has been polluting waters worldwide for years at unsafe levels. If we could use some of the nearly 20 million tons of coffee grounds we generate annually to clean it up, that'd be a game-changer.

Imagine — your daily brew could help protect our communities from contaminated water and plastic pollution. It's innovations like these that give us a shot at a healthier future for people and the planet.

The sneaker company Rens is also giving recycled coffee grounds a second life in waterproof shoes, and researchers have found that used coffee grounds can be repurposed into household items such as plant pots with the help of 3D printing. 

More research is still needed to figure out exactly how coffee grounds could be used on farms to cut pollution. But one thing is clear: The power to create change is right under our noses. In fact, it's in our cups.

So let's raise a mug to coffee — the planet's new best friend.

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