Coffee Capsules – How Harmful are they?

Over the years consumption habits have changed and one of the most striking creations are the coffee capsules.

Origin of the coffee capsules

Coffee capsules or Nespresso capsules (a combination of Nestlé and espresso) were developed by Eric Favre, a Swiss engineer who worked at Nestlé in the packaging department in the 1970s.

Favre wanted to prove to his wife that he could make the best espresso, and for inspiration he traveled to what is reputedly the best coffee in Italy. There he found that people were queuing at a coffee shop to try a cup of espresso. When he entered the place, he noticed the difference in how the coffee was prepared.

What he discovered there was the basis for the evolution of capsule design, as the only change he noticed was the amount of oxygen the coffee received in the coffee maker. The water was pumped at intervals to intensify the aroma and flavor of the coffee.

Favre focused on the development of the capsules, which is why he left Nestlé. In 1986, after much trial and error in development, the first Nespresso capsules were launched.

The first capsules Favre designed weighed 3 grams, but of this weight the aluminum filter alone weighed 2 grams. Because of this, a lot of aluminum was wasted and Favre decided to replace this design with a new one. With the new design, the capsule itself became its own filter through the action of the pressure exerted by the coffee maker.

The design of the capsules manufactured by Favre consists of seven layers of polypropylene. The shell makes up 12% of the total capsule, the remaining 88% is coffee.

What is the coffee capsule market?

The capsules were initially sold exclusively to companies. However, the young Jean-Paul Gaillard, who was appointed commercial director, also believed in great potential for the end consumer.

Jean-Paul Gaillard changed the strategy and offered the capsules to the general public. To boost his success, he ran an advertising campaign with George Clooney in 2006 and the Nespresso coffee capsules became a huge hit.

Contamination from coffee capsules

One of the main issues with the various capsules is disposal. A German statistics portal called Statista reports that in 2020 about 40% of Americans will use coffee capsules. It is estimated that this number will increase after the pandemic.

It has been estimated that of the 39,000 capsules made every minute, at least 29,000 end up in landfills. Capsules are mainly made of aluminum and are covered with an inner plastic film. However, some brands have started to develop eco-capsules made from biodegradable plastic.

What are biodegradable plastics?

Biodegradable plastics are made from renewable raw materials such as wheat, corn, bananas or cassava. Because of how they are made, these plastics are broken down by microorganisms, can be used as organic fertilizer, and dissolve much faster than traditional plastics.

However, these plastics are not a complete solution to the pollution problem as they require certain conditions to dissolve quickly.

These plastics cannot be mixed with regular plastics as they do not need to be treated on an equal footing. If both plastics end up in the sea, despite the sub-optimal conditions, biodegradable plastics can take 3 to 6 years to fully decompose, while regular plastics can take up to 350 years.

The future of coffee capsules

In recent studies by the consulting and market research company Fact.MR, the market for coffee capsules is expected to grow by 2.2% between 2018 and 2026, which means that production will continue to rise. However, experts say and expect that big brands in the market like Nestlé will introduce reusable or biodegradable capsules as many governments have launched initiatives to ban single-use plastic, which would affect these products.

On the other hand, companies like Coffee Caps have developed a program where shoppers can return the capsules for free composting, which the company says helps improve recycling and composting rates.

Pros and cons of coffee capsules

Well after all the information on how they were created and their impact on the environment you may be wondering what are the advantages of coffee capsules over regular coffee.

Benefits of coffee in capsules

  • Easy to use.
  • The coffee is ready in no more than two minutes.
  • Clean, the only thing you have to remove is the capsule.
  • Conservation, since the capsule is hermetically sealed, the properties of the coffee are optimally preserved.
  • More variety: Many types and varieties of coffee are offered in capsules, for example Coffee Balls

Disadvantages of coffee in capsules

  • Cost: Compared to regular coffee, capsules are more expensive.
  • Incompatibility, each coffee brand has its own capsule system, which in many cases means that certain capsules can no longer be used.
  • Waste, the amount of pollution from a single capsule is absurd.
  • Spare parts: Due to the incompatibility of the coffee machines, it is difficult to obtain spare parts.