The New Way to Drink Coffee
Presentation by Dr. Lars Börger
Head of Global New Business Development
BASF SE, Ludwigshafen, Germany
The compostable plastic ecovio® from BASF has found its first production application in a system solution for packaging. It is furthermore the first application for the injection molding grade ecovio IS1335. The material is being used in combination with an ecovio-based multi-layer system with specific barrier properties. Working together with the Swiss Coffee Company, BASF has succeeded in developing a system that consists of a coffee capsule and an aroma-tight outer packaging. It fulfills the demanding requirements for protecting the product and brewing coffee in high-pressure coffee machines, yet may still be composted. The system solution is predominantly based on renewable resources.
Expanded ecovio product line
BASF launched the plastic ecovio six years ago. It is biodegradable and compostable as defined by EN 13432, based to a large extent on renewable resources and in the meantime has been able to prove itself in a variety of film applications. To date, the primary fields of application have been bags for collecting biodegradable waste and mulch film, which helps to cultivate fruit and vegetables in fields.
With the new product grade ecovio IS1335, which is especially suitable for injection molding, and with new ecovio-based solutions for multi-layer film with a barrier properties, BASF has expanded the product line further. These product variants helped the new Switzerland-based Swiss Coffee Company develop a high-volume product that can contribute to sustainability in many ways while simultaneously addressing the latest trend in coffee drinking.
Swiss Coffee Company and the product beanarella
Since the end of 2012, the Swiss Coffee Company is offering coffee in compostable plastic capsules in an aroma-type barrier packaging together with coffee machines in Switzerland under the brand name beanarella. The idea for the product came to the company's founders in 2011, and after a record project completion time of only some 13 months, high-grade coffee packaged in injection molded biodegradable plastic capsules was on the market. The goal of the company is to market high-quality coffee that simultaneously satisfies demanding criteria from the social and environmental standpoint when it comes to production. The packaging was expected to satisfy similar criteria.
Traditional roasting, fair trade and compostable packaging
The coffee is produced by means of traditional drum roasting by Switzerland's oldest roaster and is thus especially low in acid and gentle on the stomach. The coffee beans are certified organic and subject to fair trade regulations. The requirements that Mr. Schaude, founder of the Swiss Coffee Company, established for the packaging are just as demanding. Accordingly, in contrast to most coffee capsules on the market, the ones offered by the Swiss Coffee Company are not manufactured from aluminum. Disposing intelligently of everything that remains after drinking the coffee was an especially important aspect in terms of packaging. In the case of food packaging with a high percentage of organic content, compostable plastics such as ecovio from BASF represent a possible solution. In this way, sustainability concepts could be applied not only to producing the coffee, but also to the packaging and disposal.
Target group and supply concept
With this product concept, the Swiss Coffee Company offers an alternative for consumers who wish to combine high standards for enjoyment and quality of life with a lifestyle that is as healthy and sustainable as possible. In Western societies, this specific target group accounts for 10% of the population. In Germany alone, studies indicate a potential of 5 million households.
The company is initially marketing its coffee in Switzerland through two channels: the company Leomat AG, the largest provider of office furnishings in eastern Switzerland, supplies the complete beanarella system to its customers and also collects the waste. Private customers will soon be able to order over the Internet and have the product shipped to them (www.beanarella.ch). In this case, the Swiss Coffee Company will arrange for return of the used capsules and packaging together with the respective provider of the product.
Optimized for composting – the packaging as an aid to disposal
Not only the ecovio IS1335 plastic is certified for biodegradable, compostable packaging to Standard EN 13432, but also the coffee capsules themselves. Moreover, the barrier packaging as well consists of biodegradable components. The structure consists of three functional layers: the outer paper-based carrier layer is followed by a thin barrier film as a middle layer and an inner sealing layer based on ecovio. All three single layers are certified according to EN 13432. The layers are bonded together by means of the compostable laminating adhesive Epotal® Eco from BASF. The packaging is designed to satisfy the demanding barrier requirements for coffee packaging with regard to moisture, oxygen and aroma.
In-house investigations conducted at BASF confirmed degradation of the used coffee capsules in an actual composting environment. During the pilot phase, the Swiss Coffee Company itself will handle composting under industrial conditions in Switzerland: Leomat will supply the coffee capsules to be disposed of together with the outer barrier packaging for the composting process.
Compost as a resource
Packaging such as coffee capsules that contain small portions of completely organic waste and where the organic waste cannot be collected separately from the packaging material lends itself ideally to composting as the correct means of disposal instead of incineration or recycling. Moreover, coffee is a favorite among composters, since it represents a good material for loosening the structure of the compost.
The concept also contributes to increasing the amount of compost and thus to the waste disposal objectives of the EU: various scientific studies estimate that in Europe today only 30 percent of all organic waste is disposed of separately. Many countries still landfill a high percentage together with other waste. Disposal in landfills generates methane, which has an approximately twentyfold higher greenhouse potential than CO2. If organic waste were collected separately and composted throughout all of Europe, greenhouse gas emissions from waste disposal could be lowered by 30 percent. Furthermore, as a natural fertilizer, compost contains valuable nutrients such as phosphorus, for example, which is important for plant growth and thus agricultural food production. Phosphorus cannot be produced synthetically; it must be obtained from deposits. In addition, moist kitchen waste has such a low calorific value during incineration that it does not represent a useful material there. For communities and citizens, however, it is associated with costs for disposal. Composting of organic waste is thus an approach to disposal that generates not only compost as a valuable substance, but also represents a cost-effective disposal method for communities.
First award and launch in other countries
In mid-May 2013, the Swiss Coffee Company received the IDEE SUISSE "Golden Idea Award 2013" innovation prize for this product concept in Zürich for an "innovative contribution to the sustainable strengthening of the Swiss economy".
As the next step, the company plans to introduce its product and concept in Germany, Austria and the USA. Each launch on the market will focus on a sound disposal concept for creating value from the promise of biodegradability. BASF will assist in this regard. Disposal of food packaging made from certified compostable plastic in organic waste containers is not yet permitted throughout Germany.
Press photo: At www.basf.com/pressphoto-database, keyword „plastics“ or search term „ecovio“. Text and photo are also available in BASF’s plastics press releases archive: www.basf.de/plastics/pressreleases