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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Biome Bioplastics Serving Up Compostable Coffee Pods

UK-based Biome Bioplastics has announced its new biodegradable coffee pod, the latest in a spate of innovations lessening the environmental impact of the roughly $6.6 billion single-serve market.

According to Biome, an estimated 9.1 billion single-serve coffee and drink cartridges wind up in U.S. landfills every year — thanks to the roughly 50 different single-serve coffee makers on the market — amounting to some 19 million cubic feet of waste. The company says coffee-pod machines are also becoming increasingly popular in Britain, with a 45 percent surge in usage between February 2012 and 2013, equating to roughly 186 million capsules.

Due to their mixed-material make-up, single serve coffee pods are not easily recyclable, and brands that do offer a recycling service have few recycling points and limited collection service. So, in response to mounting pressure on the coffee industry around the environmental impact of the ubiquitous pods, Biome Bioplastics developed a range of compostable materials for coffee pods based on renewable sources such as plant starches and tree by-products. The company says these bioplastics will degrade to prescribed international standards in composting environments.

"Single–serve coffee pods are an excellent example of the fundamental role that packaging plays in delivering quality and convenience in the food service sector,” said Biome CEO Paul Mines. “The challenge is to reduce environmental impact through packaging optimisation without impacting on food quality or safety, or inconveniencing the customer. Bioplastics are an important part of the solution.”

Based on the success of the biodegradable pods, Biome says it is working with manufacturing and brand partners to develop a number of natural polymer-based solutions for the hot drinks industry, with further announcements expected in the coming months.

In July, Canadian coffee company Canterbury Coffee Corp. announced it had developed a more environmentally friendly alternative to single-serve coffee pods. Canterbury says its OneCoffee pod, made from a PLA-based resin, is compostable and biodegradable, made with 40 percent less plastic than traditional pods, and the support structure for its hard plastic ring will compost in an anaerobic environment. Canterbury launched the new cups with its new organic, fair trade, single-serve coffee, branded OneCoffee.

Not to be outdone, last month the Republic of Tea launched its own eco-friendly, single-serve tea pod, which the socially conscious tea purveyor says is 95% biodegradable and compatible with most single-serve coffee- and tea-brewing machines.

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