State of the art of coffee capsules recycling: a case study


The market of single-dose espresso coffee is a booming market, with the highest growth rates in the consumer sector. Its evolution started in the early years of 2000 which has signed the passage from the offer of a “simple” raw material (coffee beans or ground coffee) to the offer of an integrated product/service “system”, composed of a machine and single-dose coffee pods in paper or capsules in plastic or aluminium. However, the two-digit growth in the sector could lead to a series of negative consequences for the environment, first of all the creation of a new type of waste, the single-dose disposable capsules, towards which manufacturers don’t seem to pay proper attention. A recent survey carried out by a group of Italian researchers (Lucchetti et al., 2012), demonstrates and discusses the case study of a company that has designed a special program for recovering and recycling these capsules. In this specific case, the latter consist of 5.5 grams of coffee covered with 1 gram of aluminium, material that was chosen for its remarkable properties. Aluminium guarantees optimal protection from light, ultraviolet, from water vapor, fats and oils, oxygen and microorganisms; it is hygienic, non toxic and does not interfere in aroma and taste of coffee. Additionally, it is the lightest metal for packaging and this helps reducing costs and environmental impact during transport. Aluminium has also many positive sustainability characteristics as it is the best packaging material suitable for recycling: for obtaining secondary raw material we need only 5% energy required in the primary production process, there is no loss in quality and it can be recycled an infinite number of times without losing its initial properties. The program developed by the company for recycling the capsules is based on two main aspects: a close collaboration with the aluminium industry to ensure best practices in the production and refining of the material and the creation of effective systems for the recovery of capsules in the key markets where the company is active. Recycling sectors, recovery logistics, levels of consumers’ awareness and their willingness to recycle are aspects which differ from a country to another and can be faced only through multi-stakeholder cooperation. Moreover the survey analyzes the results obtained by applying this strategy in 5 different markets: Switzerland, Spain, France, Portugal and Germany. Currently in Italy the program is not yet activated because its legislature does not include coffee capsules in the national system of packaging management.

Bibliographic references
M.C. Lucchetti et al., Atti del XXV Congresso Nazionale di Scienze Merceologiche, Trieste-Udine, 26-28 September 2012, 417-423