LIFE Project Cover Photo

LIFE-PLA4COFFEE

Reference: LIFE14 ENV/IT/000744 | Acronym: LIFE-PLA4COFFEE

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

BACKGROUND

About 10 billion coffee capsules are sold worldwide each year (2010 estimate), generating 120 000 tonnes of waste, of which some 70 000 tonnes is generated in Europe. In Italy, 12 000 tonnes of capsules (plastic/aluminium and coffee grounds) are disposed of annually in landfills and incinerators. Capsules cannot be recycled at municipal facilities because they are composed of multiple materials.

The standard materials used in coffee capsules, such as polyethylene (PE), aluminium, ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), also give rise to environmental concerns because:

  • Production of PET and PE for coffee-capsule production uses 15 000 tonnes of non-renewable oil; and
  • PE, PET and aluminium downstream production related to coffee-capsule production generates more than 410 000 tonnes of emitted carbon dioxide.
  • The use of alternative solutions such as bio-based polymers has been investigated, but even the most promising, such as polylactic acid (PLA), cannot be used because of poor mechanical strength, thermal resistance and permeability.

    The University of Tor Vergata has developed a new PLA product with improved properties and used it to produce coffee capsules at the Aroma Company facilities. The results were promising, but the coffee capsule production process needs to be adapted to accommodate the new material, and the new PLA formulation needs to be fine-tuned.


    OBJECTIVES

    LIFE-PLA4COFFE project aimed to demonstrate a new improved production process for coffee capsules based on PLA as a substitute for PE, PET and aluminium. The LIFE-PLA4COFFE compostable capsules would be marketed in Europe and the US, and the material would be applicable for many other plastic products.

    Specifically, the project aimed to:

  • scale-up the use of the new PLA material and the new coffee-capsule production process to demonstration scale;
  • demonstrate how the prototype can be used for all plastic products;
  • reduce the volume of waste (plastics, aluminium) sent to landfill; and
  • demonstrate the use of the new PLA formulation capsules for composting, thus reducing fertiliser use.

  • RESULTS

    The LIFE-PLA4COFFEE project achieved its main goals, calculating the chemical formulation of bio-plastic compounds suitable for use as capsules for coffee machines. It moreover developed a design for the industrial production of a bio-plastic material, PLA, that has the required thermal and mechanical properties to comply with the stringent specifications of coffee machines. A key step was to develop three prototypes for the production of PLA-compounds at pre-industrial level and to test their feasibility. From the results, the project team was then able to optimise injection and compression moulding technologies for the full-scale production of the coffee capsules.

    The environmental benefits derived from the use of the bio-plastic were found to relate to decreases in emissions and the use of petrochemical materials. If fully implemented, the project’s approach avoids the use of 15 000 tonnes of fossil material and saves 70 000 tonnes of waste. It also prevents the use of 20 000 tons of bauxite and other toxic minerals commonly used in the production of capsules. Furthermore, the carbon footprint of 1 000 PLA4COFFEE capsules equals 44.35 Kg CO2eq, representing a saving of 23.89 Kg CO2eq compared to traditional capsules. These main environmental benefits are considered to be long term, but the monitoring of impacts carried out by the project confirmed the potential benefits estimated at the proposal stage. The potential commercial exploitation of LIFE-PLA4COFFEE capsules can boost the growth rate of bio-based products on the European market and increase the competitiveness of Europe in the bio-based industrial sector. Despite being a niche sector, the market of coffee capsules in western Europe amounts to €4 billion (worldwide it is estimated to be $10 billion) and thus represents a good opportunity for the introduction to the market of new bio-based materials. Moreover, the replication of the project can have a positive impact on other fields, such as the automotive and food packaging sectors.

    However, the average cost of the capsules has been calculated as €15.92 for 1000 pieces, around 15-20% higher than the cost for traditional capsules. Nevertheless, a close-to-market analysis was carried out, and two private companies, Aroma and API, say that they have the internal resources and the financial capacity to commercially exploit the outcomes of the project.

    The project contributed to the implementation of several key EU policy areas, namely Waste Framework Directive, which focuses on the prevention of wastes production, recycling of waste materials, fostering of waste composting and prevention of landfill-in and incineration. The use of PLA4COFFEE capsules can also help reach the target of reducing primary energy consumption by 1.5% per year as outlined in the Europe 2020 Action Plan as well as the EU 2050 Roadmap, which aims to achieve to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 83-97% while increasing energy efficiency by 30%. Finally, its elimination of toxic and oil-based materials is in line with the REACH Directive, the EU’s Bioeconomy Strategy and the European Strategy for Plastics.

    Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).

    ADMINISTRATIVE DATA


    Reference: LIFE14 ENV/IT/000744
    Acronym: LIFE-PLA4COFFEE
    Start Date: 16/07/2015
    End Date: 15/01/2018
    Total Budget: 2,502,695 €
    EU Contribution: 1,501,610 €
    Project Location:

    CONTACT DETAILS


    Coordinating Beneficiary: Aroma System S.r.l.
    Legal Status: PCO
    Address: Via del Battirame 6, 40127, Bologna, Italia
    Contact Person: Cesare Rapparini
    Email: fin@icaspa.it
    Tel: 390516017011
    Website:


    LIFE Project Map

    ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES ADDRESSED

    THEMES

    • Plastic - Rubber -Tyre
    • Waste reduction - Raw material saving

    KEYWORDS

    • waste reduction
    • plastic
    • life-cycle management
    • resource conservation

    TARGET EU LEGISLATION

    • Directive 1999/31 - Landfill of waste (26.04.1999)
    • COM(2014)398 - "Towards a circular economy: a zero waste programme for Europe" (02.07.2014)
    • Directive 2008/98 - Waste and repealing certain Directives (Waste Framework Directive) (19.11.2008)
    • "Regulation 1907/2006 - Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) (18.12.2006) "

    BENEFICIARIES

    Name Type
    Aroma System S.r.l. Coordinator