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issue 02/2021

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  • Balance
  • Moulding
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Highlights: Injection Moulding Basics: Mass Balance

Injection moulding The

Injection moulding The next generation of compostable coffee capsules The added value of compostability In the big framework of a more sustainable future, endof-life options are often discussed. The overarching goal is to reduce CO 2 emissions to slow down the effects it has on climate change, which is why we try to move away from incineration and landfills to various forms of reuse and recycling — be it mechanical, chemical, or organic recycling. However, organic recycling or, as it is more often referred to, composting is an end-of-life solution that makes only sense for certain applications. The UK WRAP organization working towards a Net Zero future listed six key applications for compostable plastic packaging, one of them is coffee pods or coffee capsules [1]. The product layers are thin and the coffee itself has value to composters as it is rich biomass. The idea of compostable coffee capsules is not entirely new, and from a sustainability point of view, the ultimate goal should be a 100 % biobased capsule that is industrial as well as home compostable. However, compostable coffee capsules are only industrial compostable and not fully biobased – until now. The next generation bioplastics MAGAZINE sat down – digitally – with Laurent Lombart CEO of Capsul’in Pro (Luxembourg), one of the largest manufacturers of empty Nespresso®-compatible capsules. They recently launched the world’s first 100 % biobased, Home and Industrial compostable [2] coffee capsule – the Capsul’in IML Zero Impact capsule. He talked with us about the specific requirements of such an application. “Sustainability has no chance to succeed if the product, meaning the coffee, is not good in cup. A sustainable coffee capsule is a capsule that you can sell, and you need a working oxygen barrier to sufficiently protect the flavours and aromas of the coffee to do that,” Laurent explains, “when Nespresso launched their first coffee capsule almost 30 years ago, they chose aluminium because it was the only material at the time that had a sufficient oxygen barrier.” The Zero Impact capsule, on the other hand, is made of PHA derived from various plant oils like olive oil or rapeseed, and while there are already plans to produce the PHA-polymer from waste oil in the future Laurent points out that it is not the PHA that makes their capsule special. “We are not the first company to use PHA, the real invention is the oxygen barrier using 100 % biobased cellulose.” When Capsul’in was founded in 2011 they were the first company to work on Nespresso-compatible capsules but soon had to compete with larger companies. Laurent emphasises that bigger players usually go in one direction – price. For Capsul’in to survive they had to be different. It started in 2014 with the idea of co-founder and R&D Director Olivier Brivois, he wanted to produce a coffee capsule with IML (In-Mould Labelling) technology, as it opened up the option to pre-print labels. However, this injection moulding technology was not made for small applications such as coffee cups and had to be adapted. “We hoped to have it developed in 6 months, but it took us almost 2 years. However, once we had figured out how to put a label around this very small capsule, we started to improve on that to use the label as an oxygen barrier. The layer was still made of PP at the time, we only started to think about making a compostable capsule later on, so we used the same technology.” Finally, in 2020 they cracked the code with PHA making the capsule Home compostable and, thanks to a 100 % cellulose-based oxygen barrier layer, also 100 % biobased. Of course, we wanted to know more about this material, “I cannot tell you what it is, but I can tell you what it is not. We are not using metalized cellulose acetate film. We took an innovative oxygen barrier – cellulose – and have adapted it for our IML Zero Impact.” Laurent comments with a smile. “All of our competitors on the composting market, without any exception, are mixing biobased and fossil-based materials to some degree in order to get the oxygen barrier, and I am proud of the team at Capsul’in that we do not.” The Capsule has an oxygen transmission rate (OTR) below 0.0009cm³/day/caps, in comparison, the average OTR of compostable capsules using some fossil materials is around 0.0025cm³/day/caps. While the material does not reach oxygen-protection levels of aluminium it does protect flavours and aromas for 12 months. The biggest challenge The most difficult part, in the end, was not the compostable material, the IML technology, or even keeping the product itself competitive on the levels of quality control and throughput. Equally challenging was the lid of the capsule after it had been filled with coffee from a customer. Here the conventional aluminium foil needed to be replaced with a compostable, biobased lid, with the same physical properties, including oxygen barrier. The lid plays an important role in the final product – the coffee. Good coffee has a full body and crema, the flavourful, aromatic, reddish-brown froth that rests on top of a shot of espresso. Now, for a good crema, it is important that when the lid is finally “breached” it is done in a fairly controlled manner by the pressure in the coffee maker. For this, the lid is pressed against tiny “spikes” and after a couple of seconds the pressure gets too high, and the lid is breached. However, it is important that the lid does not tear but has many small micro-fractures. The reason for that is that it reduces the speed the coffee can go through the lid, keeping it relatively low, which makes the creation of crema possible at the end. 22 bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/21] Vol. 16

Capsul’in’s answer to the problem was a 3-layer compostable top lid with high oxygen barrier, and easily thermo-sealable on the rim of the capsule to avoid microleakage. “It is the only top lid that has nearly the same results as an aluminium lid, that is also biobased and compostable,” said Laurent with visible pride. The bigger picture The EU has called on the Member States to introduce separate collection of organic/biowaste by 31 December 2023 [3]. Products like Capsul’in Pro’s IML Zero Impact capsule fit perfectly into this framework. The capsules are currently in the process of an LCA as well as an ISCC+ evaluation, which would certify the sustainability and trustability of the whole supply chain. However, as this is still a fairly new product these will still take some time and are not yet in place at the time of publication. Capsul’in is further working to be carbon neutral by 2022. One important point Laurent wanted to point out was that the goal is not to replace aluminium capsules, but other conventional plasticbased capsules. Capsul’in produces some aluminium capsules themselves and there are ways to recycle them and Nespresso plans to produce their capsules of recycled aluminium by 2022 [4]. Nonbiodegradable plastic capsules on the other hand have no proper end-of-life options, as the size of the capsules as well as the moist coffee on the inside make them problematic for both mechanical recycling as well as incineration processes. But as Laurent explains, all technological innovations in the sustainability arena can only make up 50 % of the effort, the other 50 % lies in the hands of the consumer. For compostable and recyclable solutions to work customers need to be educated about their options and proper disposal streams, as planned by the EU, need to be in place. One way of communicating the proper endof-life solution for coffee capsules would be to print it on the capsules themselves, which is a step beyond the mandatory information on the packaging. With Capsul’in IML Zero Impact capsule that is an option – it is a tiny product, that combines a lot of ingenuity to create a full-bodied, flavourful, and sustainable solution. Or as Laurent would put it: “With this capsule, you don’t have to make any concessions between sustainability and good coffee. Today you can have both.” By: Alex Thielen Injection moulding Reference: [1] [2] TÜV Austria OK compost HOME & OK compost INDUSTRIAL certified [3] waste-management-and-recycling-council-adopts-new-rules/ [4] Capsul’in presentation at the AMI Single Serve virtual summit March 2021 bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/21] Vol. 16 23

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