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Mocoffee Coffee Capsules: An ecological solution

“Following growing concerns on the sustainability of coffee capsules, Mocoffee is quickly emerging as a leader in sustainable solutions. CEO Pascal Schlittler tells GCR of the company’s steps towards coupling sustainability with convenience & quality.

For Mocoffee, the sustainability of their coffee capsules is much more than just an afterthought.

Mocoffee is the brainchild of Eric Favre, the original inventor of the Nespresso system. After pioneering Nespresso’s coffee capsule and acting as the company’s first General Director, Favre left Nespresso to start his own company, partially over concerns of the sustainability of the system.

Favre’s efforts have resulted in Mocoffee, a single-serve coffee capsule system that has taken sustainability concerns into account through every step of the process. Mocoffee CEO Pascal Schlittler, is now helping spread the word of the company’s efforts.

“We’re trying to keep a focus on all the environmental aspects,” says Schlittler.

He points to three main factors that consumers should be aware of in considering the sustainability of their single-serve systems: the materials of the capsule, the sustainability of the coffee, and the energy usage of the machine. In addressing these key elements, Schlittler is proud to explain how Mocoffee has looked after these points, to develop one of the most sustainable systems on the market.

The first key element to consider in the sustainability of a system is the material the capsule uses. Mocoffee coffee capsules are made entirely of polypropylene, a material commonly used in food packaging and recognised as highly sanitary and protective.

This is an important point of difference, as many systems still use aluminium or plastic filters (or both). These filters are damaging to the environment if left in landfills, and need to be separated before recycling, something Schlittler says doesn’t usually take place.

“Coffee capsules are a convenience, but let’s admit it, recycling a capsule is a hassle,” he says. “Even when you can find places to recycle capsules, at the end of the day, many people are just going to throw them away.”

Because the Mocoffee capsules contain only polypropylene and coffee, they can be burned with arbitrary household waste and are dispersed in steam and carbon dioxide.

In using a single material for the capsule, Schlittler says that the company is also in a good position to move towards a biodegradable system. Schlittler says that biodegradable capsules will be the most sustainable in the long term.

Another advantage of the Mocoffee system is that the capsules are all hermetically-sealed. The method essentially sews the cover of the capsule to the body, ensuring an impressive shelf-life of over 50 months. A longer shelf life helps limit the potential of stocks going to waste.

“With the additional advantage of keeping stocks for some time, companies won’t have to throw them away,” Schlittler says.

A further element to consider in the sustainability of a capsule system is the weight of the capsule. Choosing a capsule that weighs two grams heavier than necessary, in a household that makes two coffees a day, can lead to almost an extra one and half kilograms of waste a year. Multiplied by hundreds of thousands of users, this could lead to tonnes of additional waste.

Mocoffee capsules are one of the lightest capsules in existence not using aluminium or plastic filters. The capsules carry up to 18 per cent more coffee than comparable brands without the additional weight. The Mocoffee system can do this because of its superior extraction technology that produces a high quality coffee with a good mouthfeel. Inferior systems need to use more coffee and/or more packaging  to get a reasonable extraction. As the Mocoffee systems uses less packaging, there is less waste that ends up in a landfill.

Mocoffee also limits the size of their capsules by using a low percentage of packaging material per capsule. The packaging makes up just 12 per cent of the total weight of the capsule (with coffee making up the remainder). Most products are made of over 15 per cent capsule material, while others contain capsule material of 25 per cent or more.

Efforts to limit the amount of material used are reinforced with work to ensure the outside packaging, that is the boxes or bags in which the capsules are placed, are just as economical. The Mocoffee system stacks the capsules in reverse, to ensure the maximum number fit into the smallest carton possible.

“These little things can make such a big difference when you think of the number of capsules that are being sold,” Schlittler says.

The next major consideration in the sustainability of coffee capsules is the agricultural practices of harvesting the coffee. As this must happen at the farm level, Mocoffee can only turn to the roasters it works with to choose a sustainability certification system to regulate practices at the farm level.

“When they procure coffee, whether they choose Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade, Utz or others, we think that roasters need to look at certifications as this is being requested by customers,” says Schlittler.

In choosing a coffee capsule system, customers need to consider another factor similar to any other household appliance – energy consumption. In most parts of Europe, energy consumption is now regulated by the European Union community, requiring appliances to have a low-power stand-by function. The Mocoffee system has exceeded these requirements, and is recommended by the Topten consumer group.

Schlittler points to one last environmental consideration that many consumers may be tempted to overlook in choosing a coffee capsule system. With so many machines available on the market, he warns of the temptation to purchase the most inexpensive machine. While consumers may think they’re being economical, they are running the risk of contributing to the unsustainability of the system.

Cheaper machines have a higher chance of breaking down, and at such a low price point, often it’s not worth getting them fixed. As such, these lower-priced machines are more likely to end up in a landfill. When cheaper machines don’t produce the quality a consumer expects, they are also less likely to be used and more likely to get thrown out. What the consumer has saved in the price point, could end up costing the planet more in the long run.

“Our machines are not cheap, but as with anything if you want quality you need to pay the price,” Schlittler says. “The cost issue could end up forcing the industry to go in the wrong direction.”
Mocoffee takes full responsibility for the repairs of their systems. Broken machines can be exchanged for a functioning system. Mocoffee refurbishes machines to limit wastage wherever possible. “We need to ensure we’re not throwing away tonnes of machines,” he says.

Every one of these details, Schlittler explains, will make a difference in the long run. As coffee capsule use is expected to continue to rise and spread around the world, these small considerations at the manufacturing level need to be taken into consideration to promote the popularity of sustainability efforts.

“This year, we’ll see 14 to 15 billion coffee capsules sold, while in 10 years that number could jump to 150 billion,” Schlittler says. “That’s a really good reason to think about the impact of the capsules you’re buying.”

Source: Global Coffee Report from the May 2012 issue.