Could this compostable coffee capsule solve the great circular economy challenge?

As the coffee cup recycling debate continues to grab national headlines, a new eco-innovation has launched which could set a new standard for another key circular economy conundrum: non-biodegradable coffee capsules.

The Halo capsules can discarded in home food bins when used, with each capsule biodegrading completely within three months. Photo Halo Coffee

The Halo capsules can discarded in home food bins when used, with each capsule biodegrading completely within three months. Photo Halo Coffee

Start-up firm Halo Coffee, which has been supported by Cranfield University’s Business Incubation Centre (CUBIC), claims to have developed the world’s first fully compostable capsule for premium-quality coffee.

The capsules, which are compatible with any leading domestic coffee machine, have been designed from a unique blend of bamboo and paper which can be put in the home food bin when finished with. While traditional aluminium capsules can take up to 200 years to biodegrade, the Halo capsule dissolves completely within 90 days, meaning this design could effectively put an end to the 13,500 non-biodegradable coffee capsules that Halo says are ending up in landfill every minute.

Halo co-founder Richard Hardwick said: “Aluminium and plastic coffee capsules are difficult to recycle so most of them end up in the bin – up to 75% are currently being sent to landfill every minute. Most people don’t understand the irreversible damage these coffee capsules are inflicting on the planet.

“It’s a design challenge that no-one has cracked. Until now. I’ve been creating premium espresso for 23 years, and capsules for over 10 years, and this is the culmination of what I’ve been trying to deliver to coffee lovers for all this time.”

Fellow co-founder Nils Leonard added: “We believe that the major coffee companies aren’t doing enough to combat waste, so if they won’t, we will. We want to set a new standard for coffee capsules and, in a year, we will have forced the whole industry to change.”

Brits consume more than 340 million coffee capsules a year, but most of these pods cannot be recycled at the kerbside. Aluminium capsules contain a fabric filter which can be difficult to separate and therefore hinders the recycling processes, while plastic pods are equally complex with two or three layers of material.

Some coffee capsule sellers, such as Nespresso, offer a returns service which allows customers to request a collection for used capsules, or drop them off at collection points across the country. Other brands, such as Nescafé Dolce Gusto, still do not offer a recycling scheme. Environmental campaigners are therefore calling for a shift to fully biodegradable capsules that can be discarded in household food waste bins, such as this new product from Halo. 

A spokesperson for Halo told edie that that unique design for the Halo capsules is currently patented, but insisted that the brand is “deeply committed to developing the technology further” and that it will “hopefully lead to our innovations being available for others to use and thus benefit the wider coffee community”. The spokesperson said the brand “would love the opportunity” to partner with retailers on rolling out the design.

The Halo brand has benefitted from support from Cranfield University’s CUBIC programme, which provides six months’ free accommodation for high-tech start-up company owners and entrepreneurs to scale-up their ventures.

“CUBIC has really helped our business move forward,” Hardwick said. “There is a great sharing of knowledge and skills among tenants and the close access to the university resources and local enterprise initiatives opens doors to funding and opportunities.”

Coffee capsules are just one part of a broader, systemic issue relating to the recyclability of coffee, with takeaway cups representing another major challenge. More than 5,000 coffee cups are discarded every minute in the UK, but less than 1% are actually recycled, due to a plastic lining on the interior of the cups which can’t be recycled by local councils. Big brands such as Costa and Starbucks have, however, recently stepped up efforts to tackle the issue.


edie’s Resource Management Month

March is edie’s Resource Management Month, with a series of exclusive interviews, features and podcasts running throughout the month to drill down on the most effective ways of driving a resource revolution.

From recycling and recovery to closed-loop solutions, our Resource Management Month will explore the various ways businesses can help to deliver an economy that has moved away from ‘take, make, waste’ to a circular economy-based model based on resource efficiency, re-use and redistribution.

Read all of our resource management content here.

Luke Nicholls


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