New UK move on coffee-capsule waste

A British-led initiative has made a big step in one of the biggest environmental subjects in recent years, the question of coffee capsule waste. The Marley brand now has the first ‘truly biodegradable’ coffee capsule, so much so that it is also the first edible capsule.

Andrew Richardson and the edible capsule low res
Andrew Richardson with the ‘edible’ capsule

The impact of Nespresso-type capsules on the environment has reached a level at which the numbers involved are almost impossible to comprehend – it is now said that Nespresso sold an estimated 28 billion capsules worldwide in one year, thus possibly putting up to 28 million kilos of aluminium into landfill, and that one in three American homes has a capsule coffee machine. In that country, the similar and market-leading K-Cup product sold enough capsules last year to circle the globe ten times, and it is suggested that they also ended up in landfill.

Even the inventor of the capsule concept, who expected the product only to be used in offices, has now said that having seen the waste impact of his product, he regrets creating it – today, he only drinks filter coffee.

This month, three British operators are involved in the launch of what may be the most environmentally-acceptable capsule yet. Andrew Richardson, the independent authority and consultant on capsules, and the British arm of the Marley coffee brand are bringing to market the first ‘edible coffee capsule’.

Andrew Richardson is an ex-Nespresso executive, and since working with that brand has made a name as an independent advisor to other brands looking to work with capsules; Marley coffee is the brand set up by the family of the late reggae star to work with coffee produced on their farm in Jamaica. The other British involvement is by Masteroast, who roast and pack the coffee.

The fourth member of the team is the European inventor Gabriele Degli-Esposti, the man who conceived the concept of the ‘edible’ capsule, and who indeed actually created a Moka pot version of the same thing late last year.

The concept of an ‘edible’ coffee capsule is of course an attention-getting device – Guy Wilmot of the Marley brand acknowledges that the ‘edible’ status is simply a way of highlighting that the product has extremely high environmental credentials. The only question mark at present is the film on top of the capsule, which is not edible, but that does not necessarily detract from the claim of a ’world first’.

“Yes, it’s not being edible that’s really important. Being edible shows it’s really all-natural, it’s food-safe, and shows how biodegradable it is. And the coffee inside is organic.

“The lid is not biodegradable, but is easily recyclable in any home. The ‘world first’ comes from the fact that this is the first truly biodegradable capsule – it really does biodegrade in 90 days, unlike ‘bioplastic’ capsules which take years to biodegrade. This is real.”

How will the consumer and the trade dispose of these things? The consultant Richardson has said that home consumers can simply put spent capsules in their rose beds.

“Ideally, it can be put in your domestic compost or vegetable matter,” agrees Guy Wilmot. “Caterers can put it in their food waste recycling, which is common in most UK cities. But, even if it goes to landfill, it biodegrades rapidly, so disposal is not a problem.”

The Marley brand, whose American chief executive visited London this month to see the development for himself, is unlikely to launch the product with extreme razzamatazz – at least, not just yet.

“Right now, our interest is in a soft launch, presenting this unique capsule offering to buyers,” explains Guy Wilmot. “We have to explain it both from an ecological and biodegradable point of view, and also a cup profile point of view. The coffee from this capsule flows well, produces an excellent crema, and has real character and great taste. And it matches Marley’s vision for having a truly sustainable coffee company.

“Later on in the year, the real launch will be coming at Anuga, the trade fair in Cologne, where Marley Coffee is exhibiting. This will be the classic David v. Goliath!”

There have been several very recent environmental claims elsewhere in support of capsules from other brands, notably the announcement by a Canadian company that it proposes to have ‘the world’s first compostable capsule’, working on the American Keurig system, by the autumn. Marley’s new capsules are in the Nespresso-compatible format, but their manufacturing principle can be applied to all kinds of single-serve capsule formats.

“The comparison that begs to be made at the moment,” says Andrew Richardson, “is with all the companies who are coming out to announce that they have bio-plastic capsules, or have plans to come out with them – whichever way you cut it, bio-plastics take a long time to degrade, and we do not know to what degree they degrade.

“Our capsule, being of paper components, is white dust in three months; the acidity in the coffee helps it degrade. It is conscience-free to throw away. We have a capsule which is so biodegradable that you can eat it… if you should want to!

“We have created the capsule which does not present a waste problem.”

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Boughton’s Coffee House is the leading news medium for the British coffee trade – read the magazine and sign up for regular news updates at http://www.coffee-house.org.uk

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