Are coffee capsules bad for the environment?

how we can recycle the coffee capsules
Coffee capsules, sustainable packaging, plastic alternative

According to The Guardian, is estimated that 20 billion capsules are thrown away per year, globally. That is enough to circle our planet 14 times!

Coffee capsules are single-use and single-serve, an easy way to enjoy our coffee at home and the office. But what happens next? Having to remove the remaining coffee grounds before washing out the capsules completely, can lead people to just throw them away.

In addition, capsules have a low recycling rate. The complexity of their packaging – often a mix of different materials such as plastic, foil and aluminium – combined with used coffee dregs – can make them difficult to recycle and process in standard municipal recycling plants. In fact, 75% of the 20 billion coffee capsules used each year end up in landfill!

The coffee revolution is happening

The increased use of coffee capsules puts more pressure than ever to global coffee brands to adopt green solutions that do not harm the environment. Today, big companies, like Nespresso and Dolce Gusto, are developing schemes that make recycling less fiddly. But is this enough?

No waste is always better

A compostable capsule is the right answer. Made from plant-based materials such as bio-based corn starch, compostable capsules are designed to break down as quickly as other organic food waste. Home composting could even reduce household waste, as compostable capsules would break down on the home compost at a similar rate to other organic matter.

Most compostable or biodegradable pods on the market have been launched by small, niche brands. For example, a separate range of 100% compostable pods made from sugar cane and paper pulp, made by online retailer Halo, can be put into home compost or food bins.

A Spanish innovative brand, called Cafès Novell has developed compostable and 100% biodegradable coffee capsules, compatible with Nespresso coffee machines. Cafès Novell has managed to eliminate packaging and replace it with cardboard capsules that are 100% recyclable and use 45% less the amount of packaging. This means that, the capsules can be deposited into organic waste and can degrade fully at 12 to 20 weeks. Easy and simple.

rezemo GmbH, founded in Germany in 2016, has developed a capsule that is fully biobased, as well as completely biodegradable, and does not leave any residues. The company uses wood shavings from sawmills in Baden-Württemberg’s Swabian Mountains for the packaging and seals it with a thin cellulose lid made of a material similar to filter paper. The wood shavings do not need to be chemically processed; they can be used directly in their natural state. The material is strictly monitored, certified and generally also suitable as a food additive – for example in yoghurt.

Compostable and biodegradable. What are the differences?

To be compostable, a product must be meet specific EU standards (EN 13432). This includes various requirements and procedures to determine the compostability and anaerobic treatability of packaging and packaging materials. One of these requirements is that after 12 weeks the compostable product should be disintegrated by at least 90% to fit through a 2mm-sieve.

On the contrary, biodegradable materials disintegrate in soil, air and water over time. However, there is no set timeline for biodegradable products, meaning it could take many years to break down completely.

Photo credit: Freepik