New Study Looks at Compostable Coffee/Tea Capsules and Sustainability

A new study revealed that coffee/tea capsules made with Ingeo PLA biopolymer from NatureWorks outperform aluminum, conventional plastics and other compostable capsules when it comes to sustainability performance.

The independent study conducted by Netherlands-based Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, a part of Wageningen University & Research (WUR), assessed the environmental impact and circularity of single-use coffee capsules made from compostable biobased materials, aluminum and conventional plastics through multiple end-of-life scenarios including industrial composting, recycling, incineration and landfill.

The study also considered the fate of the spent contents within these capsules, finding that compostable capsules can keep both the natural contents in the capsule as well as the capsule materials in the loop via organics recycling, making them the most sustainable option.

The thermoformed Ingeo-based capsules used in the study were produced by NatureWorks’ partner and food packaging producer, Flo SpA.

This study meticulously assessed different combinations of materials and disposal methods emphasizing their global warming potential over a period of 100 years in carbon dioxide equivalents as well as their Material Circularity Indicator (MCI).

Erwin Vink, the sustainability director at NatureWorks, said, “The MCI integrates critical factors such as recycling rates, recycled content, recycling process yield, biobased content, reusability and average product lifespan. Originally developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and tested by leading European businesses with real product data to ensure its robustness and relevance economy-wide, the MCI is the most comprehensive tool for measuring the circularity of materials and offers scientifically based insights for guiding sustainable material choices.”

Because Ingeo is made from annually renewable, plant-based resources, the biobased compostable capsules were shown to have a low impact on global warming.

Compostable capsules also had an MCI of 100 percent, or fully circular, when the capsules are composted, as in this process, both the capsule material and natural contents undergo organic recycling. The compostable capsules maintained robust sustainability metrics even in a scenario where consumers disposed of the capsules improperly into another waste stream.

NatureWorks has partnered with Flo SpA since 2018 to develop Ingeo PLA-based compostable capsules, including rigorous testing for quality and compostability, to ensure the most sustainable option while delivering a positive end-user brewing experience.

Compostable capsules enable discarding of the capsule and the natural contents into a single-waste stream – diverting both the packaging and spent contents away from landfills or incinerators to industrial composting, where they are processed into a valuable soil amendment that can improve soils through carbon sequestration and water retention.

NatureWorks is an advanced materials company offering a broad portfolio of renewably sourced polymers and chemicals.

To learn more about NatureWorks, visit

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