There is not a single company that does not wish to proclaim its environmental sustainability, an aspect that is becoming increasingly important in the development of new products and markets. Finding one’s way through today’s vast choice of sustainable, ecological, recyclable, refillable, biodegradable and compostable capsules and pods is not easy, however (see glossary below).
Numerous initiatives have been taken by manufacturers in an attempt to curb the problem of disposing of plastic and aluminium capsules, with investments in a number of areas: through the collection of returnable empties at the point of sale, so that they can be disposed of separately; through the use of innovative biodegradable materials with a low environmental impact because they allow emissions to be reduced after the product has been disposed of; by clearly indicating on the packaging how to separate the various components: the coffee grounds (organic), the cover (aluminium), the cartridges (plastic).
Then we have those 10 billion coffee capsules per year that generate 120 thousand tonnes of waste, of which about 70 thousand tonnes in Europe alone. Just in Italy, 12 thousand tonnes of plastic and aluminium capsules are disposed of every year in landfills and incinerators (source: European project Life-Pls-4coffee, European Commission).
RECYCLABLE CAPSULES are generally made of aluminium and can be recovered by sending them to foundries that transform them into new objects. The residual coffee from the capsules is used as fertiliser for rice fields. The rice crop is then repurchased by the aluminium capsule companies and donated to Food Banks.
RECHARGEABLE CAPSULES can be refilled with ground coffee and disposed of after several uses, saving about 85% on both the cost of a single capsule and the amount of waste produced.
BIODEGRADABLE CAPSULES AND PODS can be thrown directly into the organic waste. A biodegradable product is made of materials that decompose over time (a few weeks to centuries depending on the material) through the natural action of bacteria and microorganisms, and are then absorbed by the soil.
The E.S.E. compostable paper pods took 90% less time to disintegrate (the correct definition of the biodegradability process) than the 180 days required for the test to be valid.
COMPOSTABLE CAPSULES AND PODS can be used to create compost that can be used to make compost that is useful as a fertiliser, providing they are produced from materials that produce compost as a result of natural or industrial degradation. Compostability ensures the lowest environmental impact possible and allows a product to become part of a new life cycle.
Pods made of E.S.E. standard paper have obtained the OK Industrial compostability grade, passing tests in an industrial composting plant.
Essentially, biodegradable and compostable are two very similar concepts, the difference lies in the decomposition time. A biodegradable product usually disintegrates by 90% within 6 months, whereas a compostable product will disintegrate completely in less than 3 months.