Products made from recycled tea leaves.

Food companies are increasingly adopting programs to recycle waste leftover from the production process.

Starbucks Coffee Japan Ltd. launched a “food recycle loop” system in March to recycle its coffee grounds into compost to grow vegetables and feed cows. The vegetables grown and milk produced end up being served at its shops.

Authorized as a project under the food recycling law, which requires food companies to recycle waste substances if a certain amount is produced, the program is the first to use coffee grounds.

Some 7,000 tons of used coffee grounds are produced by the 1,000 or so shops in Starbucks’ nationwide chain each year.

The recycle loop requires the coffee chain to work with other companies, such one that collects and processes the grounds into feed and compost, and the program is currently active in a number of shops around Tokyo and the Kansai region whose aim is to reduce the production of waste by 40 percent.

Starbucks Coffee plans to have the program in use in half of the chain by fiscal 2018.

“Coffee grounds have antioxidation effects, improve the functions of the intestines and are good for vegetables,” said Yuichi Ishikawa, manager of the project. Grounds produced in large amounts in cities can be reutilized in farming villages “without cost,” he added.

Among other companies adopting recycling programs, Ito En Ltd., the top producer of green tea products, began to recycle used tea leaves, which are known to have antibacterial and odor-killing effects, in 2000.

It has developed boards, resins and paper products by mixing the tea leaves with other materials, and now supplies them to some 150 companies as building products or materials for making household utensils.

In particular, tatami containing such boards have generated strong demand.

Takanori Sato, an Ito En official, developed the new tatami mat because “I remembered my grandmother sweeping tatami floors after spreading used tea leaves over them.”

“I would like to make the mat into a core business” of Ito En by recycling more used tea leaves, he said.”

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