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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

Are Nespresso-type coffee capsules compatible with Zero Waste?

The coffee capsules from Nespresso, Lavazza and others have taken over the coffee market in the EU. Normally they are made of fully recyclable materials (alluminium or plastic + coffee grounds) but they are very rarely recycled. Why?

Is it bad design? is it bad take-back systems? Whatever it is the fact is that since the commercialisation of these items a lot more resources go to waste. This means more burden for the environment and more costs for citizens who have to shoulder costs which should be beared by those who introduced this product in the market.

The Cappannori Zero Waste Research Center identified the coffee capsules as the first item to remove from the residual waste after high separate collection has been reached. Indeed, coffee capsules is a new waste stream that was just non-existant only 5 years ago. Now it is yet another source of waste that could be avoided. In 2010 it was estimated that 10 billions of capsules where sold in the world, a tenth of them in coffee-loving Italy. Only in Italy 12.000 tones of capsules (plastic/aluminium + coffee grounds) were disposed of in landfills and incinerators.

The Zero Waste Research Center documented the evidence and sent a letter to Lavazza and Nespresso in which they asked for a meeting to discuss the issue. The companies’ reaction was quick and a meeting was set up not only with the presence of Capannori Zero Waste Research Center staff but also with the italian food industry. In this meeting Nespresso and Lavazza committed to find solutions to this problem.

The companies rightly claim that their products are recyclable (the capsule) and compostable (the coffee grounds), but the problem is that for that to happen the capsules need to be collected and the recyclables sepately treated. The companies have no incentive to do this and the authorities fail to make the producer pay for the waste they put in the market.

Nespresso for instance has a goal of reacing 75% recycling of its capsules for 2013 in the EU but with the current take-back systems and lack of incentives it is unlikely that recycling will go beyond 25%. A good way to make sure that coffee capsules would go back to the producer would be to set a deposit system that would encourage the consumer to get involved in the process. This would be good for the environment, for the consumers and for the local authorities… in the long run it would also be good for the coffee companies who would get back the raw materials but in the short term it is clear that the Nespressos and Lavazzas of this world prefer passing the costs to the consumers and the environment. However, these costs could be internalised only with a fraction of the budget they dedicate to marketing. Only political will is lacking to make polluter pay.

In a Zero Waste world there is no place for disposable coffee-capsules. If capsules are to stay it should be under the condition that the companies set up take-back systems that allow them to recover the coffee grounds to make good compost and the capsule to be reused –when possible- or recycled (not 75% but close to 100% like in deposit systems for beverages). In the meantime there is no better option than taking your coffee in the bar.

If You Care about Zero Waste…

Common kitchen and household products such as aluminium foil, baking paper, coffe filters or sandwich bags are the visible side of how sustainable and toxic-free our everyday life is.

A Zero Waste approach to these kind of products is based on prevention: if products are toxic-free and biodegradable they will not become waste but compost, if products are made from recycled materials they will save many materials & emissions, etc…

“If You Care” is a swedish brand of environmentally friendly kitchen and household products. Starting in 1990 “If You Care” launched unbleached coffee filters. Parchment Baking Paper and Baking Cups soon followed. All of the paper products were unbleached and totally chlorine-free -since no chlorine is used for bleaching, no chlorine is dumped into our lakes, rivers and streams-. In 2004, the very first Aluminum Foil made from 100% recycled aluminum was launched. This product featured a 95% energy savings compared to conventional aluminum foil. Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil for grilling and barbecuing, also from 100% recycled aluminum, was introduced in 2007. That same year, waxed paper, from unbleached paper coated with soybean wax was launched. In 2009, two new products were launched – 100% carbon neutral fire starters, made from FSC certified wood and vegetable oil, and sandwich and snack bags made from unbleached greaseproof paper. Many new products in a wide variety of categories are being planned and developed in the coming years.

“If You Care” kitchen and household products are carefully and deliberately crafted to have the least environmental impact and the lightest carbon footprint possible, while at the same time, delivering to the consumer, the highest quality and most effective results.

Following the Zero Waste philosophy “If You Care” products are produced with a view to reducing the amount of waste in our waste streams. The packaging of every product is made from unbleached and whenever possible, recycled cardboard or paper which should be recycled again. The coffee filters, parchment paper, baking cups, waxed paper and sandwich bags are 100% biodegradable and should be composted. The aluminum foil is made from recycled aluminum and can be recycled again.

“If You Care” is yet another example of how business and Zero Waste go hand in hand. Less toxics in the environment and less waste to be disposed of means less harm and expenditure for the communities.

The first European Zero Waste Research Center – Capannori, Italy

The first Zero Waste Research Center in Europe was founded in Capannori, Italy, in December 2010. The research center is a vital piece of a Zero Waste strategy because it is impossible to slim the waste bin if we don’t know what ends up thrown in it. In order to get to Zero Waste, waste needs to be made very visible so that we can develop actions to prevent waste from ending up there.

The traditional systems of waste management are designed to hide waste. The claim that landfills and incinerators make waste disappear it’s nothing else but a myth. As Professor Paul Connett says: landfills bury the evidence and incinerators burn it (i.e. bury them in the atmosphere and in toxic ashes). If we want to act against waste, we have to make it very visible.

This is why the Zero Waste Research Center was created; to study what is left in the residual fraction of the household and commercial waste. Capannori, like many other italian municipalities where the door-to-door collection systems are applied is above 75% separate collection. Therefore it is time to look into what is left in the remaining 25% in order to advance towards Zero Waste.

The first step is to do a caracterisation of the residual waste; i.e. analyse samples of residual waste to know its configuration. See the next table to know what was found in the residuals:

As we can see 85% of what is found in the residual fraction can be prevented, composted or recycled. 28% of it are plastics, 22% is biodegradable, 16% is clothing and 13% nappies. This means that if the right policies are in place the total household and commercial waste that should be sent to disposal would be less than 5% of the total waste generated!

The ZW Research Center is composed of an operative team with industrial designers charged with the task of proposing changes to the design of badly designed products. These proposals are then sent to the producers responsible for the manufacture of toxic and/or non-recyclable and/or non-biodegradable in order to give them sustainable alternatives.

The Center also has an Scientific Committee composed of waste experts, university professors and other technical people who can provide useful advice.

Albeit its very limited resources the Zero Waste Research Center is setting an example to follow for any municipality who wants to advance towards Zero Waste.