Aluminum coffee capsules: which ecological alternatives?

Aluminum coffee capsules which ecological alternatives

Comedians, entrepreneurs, conductors, roofers or even influencers, they are active in the fight against climate change. For L’Express, students from the Institut Pratique du journalisme Paris Dauphine set out to meet small and large players in climate action in France.

Rather long, espresso or cappuccino? A real ally for breaks at work or the morning boost, coffee is a must for many French people. According to WWF, it is the sixth imported product that causes the most tropical deforestation. The carbon footprint varies according to the modes of use, but one system poses a specific problem: that of the capsules. If they make it possible to consume less water and coffee, the pieces of aluminum in their packaging do not necessarily manage to be recycled.

Innovative filling methods

To fight against this phenomenon, some companies are innovating, such as Caps Me. The project was launched by Thibault Louvet and Jean de Boisredon during their studies. “We each had a Nespresso coffee machine at home, says Thibault Louvet. It made our hearts ache every time we had to throw away the used capsules. We tried to reuse them, but it was too complicated .”

The novelty of Caps Me remains in its filling method: a small shaker that inserts the right dose of coffee into the capsule. At only 24 years old, Thibault Louvet demonstrates his product, his company’s sweater, yellow and white, on the back: the shaker is filled with ground coffee, a stainless steel capsule is inserted in its lower part. After a movement worthy of an experienced bartender, all he has to do is stick a lid on the capsule before he can pour his coffee.

To combine social and ecology, all their production is done in Palaiseau (Essonne), in the La Cardon Work Assistance Establishment (ESAT), which employs people with mental disabilities. Around twenty people work in the workshops, from product assembly to delivery boxes. The atmosphere is studious, everyone is harnessed to their task. All the assembly is carried out by hand, thanks to small presses created to measure to assemble the parts together.

“Here, at the beginning, we produced 300 shakers a day. Today, it’s more than 3,000!”, rejoices Thibault Louvet. Always with a concern for the climate, the majority of the components are manufactured in France. The young entrepreneurs even plan to manufacture their reusable stainless steel capsules in France.

The Caps Me box and its shaker to fill the capsules.

© / Baptist Roux

Caps Me imports its coffee from Brazil and Colombia. Their goal by 2025 is to achieve 50% of their imports through cargo sailboats, which reduce the impact of transport on the environment.

Improved recycling

The major capsule-producing companies are also getting involved. From 2008, Nespresso sought to develop recycling. “We worked with sorting centers to install eddy current machines.” says Antoine Mery, communications manager for Nespresso France. These machines make it possible to separate aluminum waste from others. There are now some in 54 sorting centers in France. In 2022, this represents 3,900 tonnes of small aluminum recycled, from capsules to medicine packaging.

“It is estimated that 25% of Nespresso capsules are recycled. We aim to increase to 50% by 2025,” explains Antoine Mery. Other players such as Nestlé France have followed suit, with the creation in 2019 of the alliance for the recycling of aluminum capsules.

And even as recycling of those little pods improves, companies are looking for ways to use less aluminum. Nespresso is preparing to launch compostable paper capsules on some of its coffees in early June.

Try to produce French

Beyond the capsules, the production of the beans and their use in the machine constitute the largest part of the pollution. Transport remains an important point of the environmental impact of coffee. Most producers are located in South America and Africa, while the biggest consumers are the countries of northern Europe: Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden in the first positions. This production is threatened, particularly in Africa, because of global warming. So to overcome these problems, some have decided to try to produce coffee closer and in cooler areas.

This is the case of Jean-Marc Sanchez. He founded the Acapella brand which roasts and sells coffee. He has been trying since 2021 to grow his own coffee in the south of France, rather than importing it. Nearly four hectares near Perpignan where coffee trees grow in the shade of photovoltaic panels. A pioneer in France, Jean-Marc Sanchez is therefore faced with a number of problems that no one had encountered before “it’s a long learning period. For example, we learned that frost is not good for coffee trees , and that they can be attacked by caterpillars,” he concludes. Other attempts have been launched in Italy and Spain. You will have to wait a little longer before tasting the juice: 5 years between planting and the first cup of coffee from these beans.