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Compostable Coffee Capsules Made with NatureWorks’ Ingeo Biopolymer Score Highest Sustainability Marks in New Study by Wageningen University & Research

new study reveals that coffee capsules made with Ingeo™? PLA biopolymer from NatureWorks outperform aluminum, conventional plastics, and other compostable capsules when it comes to sustainability performance. The independent study conducted by Netherlands-based Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, a part of Wageningen University & Research (WUR), assessed the environmental impact and circularity of single-use coffee capsules made from compostable biobased materials, aluminum, and conventional plastics through multiple end-of-life scenarios including industrial composting, recycling, incineration, and landfill. The study also accounted for the fate of the spent coffee grounds within these capsules, finding that compostable capsules keep both the coffee grounds and capsule materials in the loop via organics recycling, making them the most sustainable option. The thermoformed Ingeo-based capsules used in the study were produced by NatureWorks’ partner and food packaging producer, Flo SpA.

This study meticulously assessed different combinations of materials and disposal methods emphasizing their global warming potential over a period of 100 years in carbon dioxide equivalents as well as their Material Circularity Indicator (MCI).

“The MCI integrates critical factors such as recycling rates, recycled content, recycling process yield, biobased content, reusability, and average product lifespan,” said Erwin Vink, Sustainability Director, NatureWorks. “Originally developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and tested by leading European businesses with real product data to ensure its robustness and relevance economy-wide, the MCI is the most comprehensive tool for measuring the circularity of materials and offers scientifically based insights for guiding sustainable material choices.”

The independent study conducted by Wageningen University & Research considered both material circularity and greenhouse gas emissions to determine that compostable coffee capsules are the most sustainable option. © Wageningen University & Research.Because Ingeo is made from annually renewable, plant-based resources, the biobased compostable capsules were shown to have a low impact on global warming. Compostable capsules also had an MCI of 100%, or fully circular, when the capsules are composted, as in this process, both the capsule material and coffee grounds undergo organic recycling. The compostable capsules maintained robust sustainability metrics even in a scenario where consumers disposed of the capsules improperly into another waste stream.

“The conclusion of this study is significant because it represents the entire life cycle of the capsule and the coffee inside – from carbon footprint to its circularity potential,” said Flavio Di Marcotullio, Strategic Marketing Manager, Single Serve Beverages at NatureWorks. “It clearly shows that compostable capsules made with Ingeo are, bottom line, the most sustainable material for single-use coffee capsules, outperforming recycling scenarios for both conventional plastic and aluminum while also making disposal simple for consumers.”

NatureWorks has partnered with Flo SpA since 2018 to develop Ingeo PLA-based compostable coffee capsules, including rigorous testing for quality and compostability, ensuring the most sustainable option while delivering a positive end-user brewing experience. Compostable coffee capsules enable discarding of the capsule and wet coffee grounds into a single-waste stream — diverting both the packaging and spent coffee grounds away from landfills or incinerators to industrial composting where they are processed into a valuable soil amendment that can improve soils through carbon sequestration and water retention.

About NatureWorksNatureWorks is an advanced materials company offering a broad portfolio of renewably sourced polymers and chemicals. With performance and economics that compete with oil-based materials, naturally advanced Ingeo™ biomaterials are valued for their unique functional properties and used in applications from compostable rigid and flexible food packaging to hygiene products and 3D printing materials. NatureWorks is jointly owned by Thailand’s largest ASEAN leading integrated petrochemical and refining company, PTT Global Chemical, and Cargill, which provides food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services to the world.

Publication date: 27/11/2023

Author: Yago Destro de Oliveira

Bio-based News


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870292.