Good news for all Belgian coffee lovers! As of 1 January 2023, all coffee capsules - and those holding other drinks - can be put in the PMD bag, as well. Together with three big companies of the sector - Nespresso, Nestlé and JDE Peet's -, Fost Plus has developed a sustainable recycling solution for these capsules and anticipates that this will lead to the collection of an additional 4,500 tonnes and more.
Door-to-door collection of PMD is the key to the successful recycling of household packaging in Belgium. The introduction of the New Blue Bag was a huge step forwards in terms of the quantities collected and recycled.
The aim was always to further expand the contents on the basis of developments in technical possibilities and the recycling markets. Since 2022, for example, all aerosols have been permitted in the PMD bag, whereas originally only cosmetics and food aerosols were allowed.
Now we are adding capsules for coffee and other drinks. A fast-growing market, because coffee capsules are becoming increasingly popular among consumers. They can be used to prepare a single cup of coffee, with the consumer’s desired aroma, and precisely the correct amount of water and steam. In addition, more and more capsules are coming onto the market for tea, hot chocolate and other warm drinks.
In total, we expect to collect around 4,500 tonnes of extra materials. The majority of the capsules are aluminium, a material that can be endlessly recycled and for which there is great demand on the recycling market. But the plastic capsules have a lot of recycling potential, as well.
Investing in sorting centres
So far there has been no uniform collection and recycling system for the capsules. That is now changing. Fost Plus joined forces with a number of major players in the sector (Nespresso, Nestlé and JDE Peet's) to find a sustainable recycling solution. No easy task, because the capsules are relatively small compared with most other packaging from the blue bag. In most cases, they also contain a lot of product residue, coffee grounds and moisture.
The first tests in the sorting centres showed that the aluminium capsules are indeed too small to be picked up in the standard process, so they ended up in the residual flow. Thanks to an additional investment, they can now be recovered from this residual flow. In a subsequent step, the coffee grounds, other product residue and any plastic films are removed. The result is a pure flow of aluminium, ready to be used in new items and packaging.
Recycling the plastic capsules is a lot more complex. These capsules vary widely, as they are made of various types of plastic and come in different sizes, shapes and colours. Some still contain a lot of grounds and product residue, while others are empty. Nevertheless, it is now possible to include a considerable part of them in the existing flows for polypropylene (PP) and mixed plastics. For the residual fraction, we are looking at various ways of further optimising the sorting processes.
Easy for the public
Thanks to the adjustments made in the sorting centres, the capsules can therefore now be included in the existing blue bag collection system. A handy solution instantly accessible to everyone in Belgium. Moreover, the door-to-door collection ensures a high collection level, increasing the chance that we will also be able to actually recycle the lion's share of the capsules put on the market.