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Scientists Use New Bioplastic to Make Fully Compostable Coffee Pod

Published on 2021-02-25. Author : SpecialChem

TAGS:  Green and Bioplastics   

plastic-coffee-pod A University of British Columbia scientist, Dr. Zac Hudson has created a new fully compostable coffee pod with NEXE Innovations.

The NEXE pod composts completely in as little as 35 days in industrial compost. The pods are made from two specially engineered components: An outer fiber jacket and a bioplastic inner capsule designed to break down into carbon dioxide, water and organic biomass – leaving no microplastic behind.

New Bioplastic for Full Degradability


In order to create a fully compostable pod, Dr. Hudson – whose research focuses on the development of new materials to address issues of sustainability – had to formulate a new bioplastic.

Traditional plastics are made from chemicals, or monomers, derived from fossil fuels. Bioplastics use monomers derived from biomass such as wood or plants.

We started out by importing bioplastics from overseas and trying them out for the pods we wanted to create. This helped us learn which materials worked well and which didn’t, so we could create new formulations in-house or with the help of our partners,” said Dr. Hudson.

Challenges to Overcome


There were several challenges to consider. Many compostable pods already on the market are soft-bottomed, exposing the coffee grounds to moisture and air and allowing them to go stale quickly. They also hold fewer coffee grounds than plastic pods, which can lead to a relatively weak brew.

They also couldn’t look or feel too much like traditional plastic. “This has been a huge barrier to adoption of compostable pods in the past – consumers can’t tell them and regular plastic apart,” said Darren Footz, CEO of NEXE Innovations.

Coffee drinkers are very discerning: If you make a product that is good for the planet, but the coffee tastes bad, they’re going to lose interest pretty quickly,” said Dr. Hudson. “We want our pods to be the best of both.”

The team eventually settled on a two-part solution:
  • A bioplastic inner capsule made from polylactic acid (PLA) compounded with other natural ingredients that addresses moisture, air and heat issues and holds a large volume of coffee grounds.
  • An outer jacket made from bamboo that still looks and feels like plant fiber.

Tried and Tested Material for Sustainability


The new bioplastic was tested in collaboration with Dr. Hudson’s research group at UBC, while the composting of the pods was tested at the Surrey Biofuels Facility, which handles all compost for the city of Surrey.

“We are now making our own bioplastics at our facility in Surrey and are looking to bring significant bioplastics manufacturing capacity to Canada,” said Dr. Hudson. “We’re also working on home composting solutions for our pods.”

The pods are compatible with all Keurig K-Cup brewing systems and launched commercially this month – and sold out their entire launch inventory through their online store in one day. The company recently announced Nespresso-compatible pods set to begin production later in 2021.


Source: University of British Columbia
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