As a business, we’re committed to triple bottom line sustainability: to balancing profit and purpose with the highest standards of social and environmental practices. Our direct trade sourcing underpins this, but it is a commitment that runs throughout our whole business.
One area which is a minefield for sustainable practices is packaging and the true eco-credentials of materials. There’s a lot of information and misinformation to navigate. A lot of businesses champion certain materials (particularly compostable at the moment), but the danger of championing is that it can become greenwashing. It may be that a material is a great choice in theory, but if you don’t have the right facilities at home to ensure it’s processed properly, it’s not all that sustainable in practice. The positive thing is that our industry is trying to behave sustainably. We just need to make sure that the behaviors are meaningful.
Last year we shared the research that our EMEA-certified Sustainability Officer had carried out on coffee bag materials. You can read that here. The outtake was that there is currently no ideal material solution, so we needed to put in place processes to manage the end-of-life of the bags. The same goes for capsules. Below we’ve outlined our research and why we’ve selected recyclable aluminum. Key to this though - as with our bags - is that if you don’t live in an area where your local council will accept aluminum capsules in household recycling, we will have them recycled for you through our partners, First Mile. We’ve popped information about First Mile below too.
Simply return them to the roastery at the address below, or one of our coffee shops when they reopen.
First Mile C/O Origin Coffee
The Roastery, Wheal Vrose Business Park
Helston, Cornwall TR13 OFG
The process of making compostable capsules has a much higher carbon footprint than aluminum, and they require very specific conditions of 'heat, light, oxygen, and moisture to break down to organic matter in less than 180 days' says Matthew Osborne from Masterroast, a British producer of coffee capsules.
According to research by Halo, another producer of coffee capsules in the UK, every minute about 39,000 of these pods are made worldwide, while up to 29,000 are dumped in landfill sites. The capsules can be placed in your own compost heap or food waste bin, however, Osborne says that 'only 6% of the UK population actively home compost, and that is primarily food waste”, and “less than 10% of UK councils currently accept compostable certified packaging in their food waste bin'.
So, what’s the problem with the product going to landfill? Surely it will still break down naturally. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Sebastien Humbert, an expert in life-cycle assessment studies at Quantis, spoke to WIRED in 2019; here he stated that 'People often think that compost is by definition better but it's not necessarily the case.' If it ends up in a landfill, it will degrade — producing methane that will end up in the atmosphere. 'In a landfill, you want things to stay, you want it to be stable. And if you put the capsule into your backyard, our experience shows that the backyard compost is not good enough to actually degrade it, that it will take years.'
ALUMINIUM & FIRST MILE
The capsules we’ve chosen are 100% aluminum. Research from The Aluminium Association demonstrates that 'Nearly 75 percent of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today'. The number of local councils [in the UK] who have the equipment available to correctly sort and process capsules at recycling centers is increasing. If our customers can't recycle them with their local council, we’ve got processes in place to get them recycled through our partners, First Mile instead. They’re an innovative company founded in 2004 that makes working with specialist recycling facilities more accessible.
Through First Mile, we have mixed recycling boxes at our Roastery and in each of our own shops (please see here for locations), for your empty capsules to be collected and recycled. Just simply collect them up, pop them in an envelope and send them to us, or if you live near one of our coffee shops, just drop them in.
We should also add that for a specialty roaster with the highest quality standards, aluminum also provides a barrier to the coffee, so that it retains the quality and flavor integrity of it, over and above compostable. So, when we dug deeper on the reality of compostable vs aluminum options, based on current UK local recycling facilities, the choice of aluminum ticked both the sustainable and quality boxes. We will, of course, continue to monitor changes in local facilities and new material developments.