How Nestlé developed paper-based compostable capsules for Nespresso machines

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

The new capsules are the result of ‘major’ investments in R&D, we were told. Image source: Nespresso
The new capsules are the result of ‘major’ investments in R&D, we were told. Image source: Nespresso

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Made from paper pulp and biopolymer, the new home compostable capsules – compatible with Nespresso Original machines – will enter the European market from spring next year.

Nestlé-owned Nespresso is best known for its aluminium capsules and compatible machines, the first of which hit the market in 1986. Since then, the company has been working on a range of sustainability initiatives, ranging from recycling schemes to the launch of 80% recycled aluminium capsules.

This week, Nespresso is celebrating another sustainability-led innovation: the development of paper-based home compostable capsules for the European market.

Paper pulp, biopolymer film, oxygen barrier

The new capsules are the result of ‘major’ investments in R&D. The greatest challenge, explained Hanna Jonasson, Global Sustainability Communication and Public Affairs at Nespresso, lay in meeting demands for usability while ensuring ‘no compromise’ on taste.

“It has taken the Nespresso R&D teams three years to develop a compostable capsule that delivers a premium coffee experience that meets our exacting standards in terms of quality and taste, while being compatible with the Nespresso Original system,” ​she told FoodNavigator.

The capsules are made from 82% paper pulp, alongside a compostable biopolymer film which serves as an oxygen protective barrier to preserve the coffee in transport, storage, and during the high-pressure extraction in Nespresso machines.

A shelf-life of up to six months has been achieved thanks to a thin oxygen barrier inside of the capsule, as well as its sealed pouch outer packaging.

Finnish packaging company Huhtamaki also contributed to the development of the paper-based capsule. “Part of this breakthrough innovation is the result of combining paper pulp from wood fibre, a natural renewable material, compressing it into a coffee capsule using our high precision technology, creating another sustainable alternative for Nespresso lovers,” ​commented Huhtamaki CEO Charles Héaulmé.

How long do they take to decompose?

When placed in a home compositing system, the paper-based capsules completely decompose within a maximum of one year.

“These paper-based capsules are certified by [certification body] TÜV Austria as ‘OK compost HOME’ and ‘OK compost INDUSTRIAL’. Best industry standards say that home composting degrades within 12 months in home composters and six months in industrial composting. However, our tests show that they can degrade in a much shorter timeframe,” ​Jonasson explained.

“The length of time it will take to degrade depends on the management and conditions – such as moisture, temperature etc. – of the home composting system. For example, many people find that home composting takes longer in winter.”

Although certified for both home and industrial composting, in some countries the plant-based capsules are also accepted in the public biowaste bin. This is the case in France, for example, which is on the countries where Nespresso is piloting this range.

Nespresso ‘remains committed’ to aluminium

There is no risk the paper-based alternatives will replace Nespresso’s aluminium alternatives, however. Aluminium remains the ‘best material’ to preserve coffee freshness and aromas in the long-term, explained Jonasson. Indeed, depending on the coffee, the ‘best before’ date on Nespresso aluminium capsules range from approximately six to 15 months from the date of production.

“We remain committed to aluminium and retain our position as an advocate for a more sustainable aluminium value chain, using recycled aluminium for our coffee capsules as an example,” ​the communication expert continued.

In 2020, the company revamped its capsules to include 80% recycled aluminium content. Today, the Nespresso offers more than 100,000 aluminium capsule recycling collection points (aluminium is infinitely recyclable) in 70 countries, which it says gives almost 80% of customers convenient access.

“In our supply chain, from sourcing to recycling, we are fortunate to have strong partners. Aluminium is currently the best material we have found to protect the freshness and aromas of our coffee over a long period of time.

“We see this new paper-based range as a way of widening our choice to consumers, but it does not lessen our commitment to aluminium.”

France, Switzerland, and beyond

Nespresso has developed four new blends, including an organic coffee product, for its paper-based capsule line. The paper-based capsules will sit within the price ranges of Nespresso’s current aluminium capsules, Jonasson explained.

The range will pilot in France and September from spring 2023, where the company expects consumers will respond well to the sustainable innovation. According to a government survey, consumer demand for compostable packaging is increasing, with an estimated 45% of French people now home composting one or more types of biowaste.

Having launched into France and Switzerland, Nespresso plans to expand its launch of paper-based compostable capsules into ‘several’ other European countries within a year.

The announcement follows on from Nestlé-owned Nescafé Dolce Gusto’s new NEO coffee system, revealed earlier this month​, which also includes paper-based home compostable packaging (pods).

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