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How to Manage Used Coffee Capsules Effectively

Another coffee? Nespresso hits 80 percent recycled aluminum capsule milestone

By Joshua Poole

Nespresso has unveiled the first coffee capsules on the market made using 80 percent recycled aluminum in a milestone for the Nestlé Group unit’s circularity ambitions.

Nespresso has unveiled the first coffee capsules on the market made using 80 percent recycled aluminum in a milestone for the Nestlé Group unit’s circularity ambitions. The capsules were rolled out in March for Original Line Master Origin Colombia coffee and will be expanded to other selections from July onwards. By the end of 2021, Nespresso aims to have the full Original Line and Vertuo ranges of coffee capsules made using recycled aluminum.

The launch follows the introduction of machine boxes in fully recyclable packaging made of 95 percent recycled material in March. By the end of 2021, Nespresso aims to have all machines sold in this new packaging.

“We are constantly challenging ourselves to improve the sustainability and circularity of our operations, including the way we source, use, and recycle materials. Reaching 80 percent recycled aluminum in our capsules is a significant milestone and something we have worked hard to achieve together with our suppliers,” notes Jérôme Pérez, Nespresso Head of Sustainability.

Aluminum is infinitely recyclable and is one of the most widely recycled materials in the world. The UK collected 116,670 metric tons of aluminum packaging for recycling in 2019, which marks a 17 percent increase since 2018, according to figures released by the UK Environment Agency. Meanwhile, recycling rates for aluminum beverage cans in the EU, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland rose to a record high 74.5 percent in 2017, a 2.3 percent increase from 2016.

Recycled aluminum requires less energy to produce than virgin material, making it well-suited to the circular business model. Aluminum also optimally protects the freshness and aromas of high-quality coffee, providing a perfect barrier against oxygen, light and humidity. Nespresso aluminum capsules consist of a thin aluminum foil – each new capsule is produced using 9.2 percent less aluminum material and is 8 percent lighter.

“These new initiatives take Nespresso a step closer to creating a more circular business model,” Pérez adds. “We will continue to work towards increasing the proportion of recycled aluminum in our coffee capsules and to drive up the recycling rate of our used capsules, making it as easy as possible for our customers to recycle them.”

Revving up recycling
Nespresso has also reached a reported global recycling rate of 30 percent and will continue to work to increase it. Since 2014, the company has invested over 185 million CHF (US$190 million) in its recycling programs globally, with over 100,000 collection points in 53 countries.

“Consumer participation is central to success, so we are incredibly grateful for the enthusiasm our customers have shown in achieving our current recycling rate. We aim to now build on this positive momentum. We will continue our efforts to promote recycling among consumers, working towards achieving our ultimate ambition of recycling all of our capsules,” Pérez explains.

Nespresso stresses that recycling is a collective effort, and increasing recycling rates is dependent on four key elements:

  • Further strengthening the communication to consumers to raise awareness and drive participation;
  • Working with authorities to integrate capsule recycling into collective recycling schemes;
  • Increasing the number of collection points; Integrating other portioned coffee
  • Integrating other portioned coffee manufacturers into its recycling scheme to improve the availability and accessibility of aluminum capsule recycling.

“These initiatives are an integral part of Nespresso’s ongoing commitment to the responsible use of aluminum. As announced in November 2018, we will continue to work alongside our partners to use aluminum compliant with the Aluminum Stewardship Initiative (ASI) standard for responsible and sustainable aluminum, whether it is sourced from bauxite or recycled material,” Pérez concludes.

Innovation in coffee packaging
In a notable development, PulPac, a patented technology that 3D-molds cellulose into strong and stable paper packs of any shape, including coffee capsules, is working with clients to set up production capabilities in Europe and the US as part of its quest for global commercialization. Most recently, AR Packaging joined the PulPac Technology Pool and aims to be first-to-market with 3D dry molded cellulose trays and cutlery for the food, on-the-go and foodservice sectors created using the patented technology.Nespresso boasts over 100,000 recycling collection points in 53 countries.

In November, Italian coffee company Lavazza introduced Eco Caps, a range of compostable coffee capsules, to address consumers’ rising environmental concerns. To ensure that all coffee capsules are responsibly thrown away, Lavazza is partnering with TerraCycle to launch a free UK-wide program to provide a composting solution for used coffee capsules.

Coffee is deeply rooted in many cultures and holds the status of the most popular drink worldwide. The more coffee we drink, the more grounds we discard – but what purpose might coffee waste serve post-usage? German company Kaffeeform tasked itself with creating a sustainable beverage container out of waste, experimenting with coffee grounds, and from this the Kaffeeform cup was born.

Used coffee grounds can also be upcycled to serve as a new non-wood source “in large amounts worldwide,” according to new research from Yokohama National University, Japan. The research team found that the amount of cellulose contained in coffee grounds per gram of dry weight is much lower than that of wood.