On 3rd March in Milan, Lavazza, in cooperation with Novamont, presented for the first time a new type of fully biodegradable coffee pod which may be collected alongside organic waste once used. This has to be considered an impressive result in the framework of the bio plastic research sector used to create such an innovative product.
The process started in 2011 when the Zero Waste Research Center contacted Lavazza and other coffee-makers to explain the disappointment determined by the production of coffee pods to be thrown away in residual waste (mixed garbage) without any chance to be recycled and so to be considered as “the outcome of a bad design”. Lavazza replied with an invitation to the Zero Waste Research Center to cooperate together with their innovation center and also together with the national sectoral industry that works on the production of food and related packaging (called AIIPA), with the aim of creating sustainable solutions with regard to the coffee pods. Some of the final results were: the production of reusable pods (each reusable up to 300 times), or the compressed, self-compacting coffee pods with no packaging outside.
Moreover, since 1st January 2015 the national consortium of packaging producers CONAI recognized the external part of the coffee pods as a packkaging plastic waste (and not anymore as residual waste) hence covered by their Extended Producer Responsibility, and linked with the commitment from CONAI itself to guarantee an appropriate communication campaign related to this milestone, i.e. the new concept for reuse and recycling of the pods.
Lavazza acknowledged the positive impact of the input given by the Zero Waste Research Center by defining this new product the “Zero Waste coffee pod”: a pilot example of circular economy to be considered as an alternative to the “throwaway” model and culture.
The Zero Waste Research Center is also working to raise awareness on how to reuse the coffee grounds. The answer to this question is given by “Funghi Espresso” (“Espresso Mushrooms”): a start-up reality which started as a pilot project and then became an enterprise, also receiving an award from the Region of Tuscany as the most innovative start-up enterprise in the region, worth representing Tuscany during next Expo 2015, hosted in Milan.
The Zero Waste Research Center is currently working both on the level of biodegradability of the plastic used to produce the coffee pod package, and on the physical-chemical composition of the coffee-based substrate coming from the cultivation of mushrooms (pleorotus ostreatus-type), in order to verify its agronomic value, and to understand how it may be inserted it in the agricultural system. It will be interesting now to monitor carefully the next steps implemented by the coffee industry.
Will the “disposable approach” be reconsidered as a dark past to be finally given up? The next meeting that the Zero Waste Research Center is planning to organize with AIIPA (the national association for the industrial food product) will be crucial, as it should give evidence about the type of approaches the most important industrial brands are willing to adopt, keep and promote in terms of sustainable solutions. Although it’s too soon, right now, to give a specific feedback about this experience, we may well say the input given by the Zero Waste Research Center represents an experience of empowerment, started from a little community like Capannori (the first Italian and European municipality to adopt the Zero Waste strategy and in particular the Zero Waste Movement) that, with very little economic resources but with very big passion and expertise, succeeded in involving in a substantial way the responsibility of producers, thereby promoting innovative and sustainable solutions.
Director of the Zero Waste Research Center – Municipality of Capannori
President of Zero Waste Europe and Zero Waste Italy