Industry News

A PLA coffee pod has been created by NatureWorks for Keurig brewers

by | Apr 4, 2024

NatureWorks who is a PLA producer, has recently announced that they have now developed a fully compostable coffee capsule. This creation was made possible through a partnership with coffee processor and packaging company IMA Coffee.

For a while now, every day coffee pods have been frequently used to make coffee, as they are well-known as a no-mess, hassle-free way of creating coffee. These pods are always well-made and produce coffee that is consistent in strength and temperature. Whilst there are many advantages of using these pods, there are also some disadvantages, as a large amount of consumers are concerned about the effect these pods have on the environment. This concern arises because these pods are not supplied in sustainable packaging and therefore, once used, they contribute significantly to the issue being created by packaging waste.

Therefore, after seeing an opening in the market, after three years of development NatureWorks and IMA Coffee have created and launched a fully compostable coffee capsule. These capsules have been manufactured with NatureWork’s Ingeo biopolymer and they have been innovatively designed so that they are compatible with the recently developed Keurig machines, which have now become available within the North American market. Ingeo PLA grades was the material that was used to create the rigid capsule body, lid and filter for the pod.

The choice in material means that a solution to coffee pods which previously caused a waste issue, has now been found. This solution has come from the new design making the pods compostable, which is hugely helpful as now the pods will no longer go to landfill and contribute to the plastic waste issue, plus they will also provide the opportunity to address consumer concerns and make the coffee industry more environmentally friendly. Furthermore, making the pods compostable will present the opportunity to recover the used coffee grounds, which can then be processed at a compost facility. This will mean that not only is waste reduced, but it also means that within the facility the coffee ground will be able to deliver valuable nutrients to the final compost.

To create these pods, both companies focused on the design of the pod, which resulted in NatureWorks combining non-compound, highly crystalline and heat resistant Ingeo PLA grades, through a refined single-stage thermoforming process. This process shows that the rate of production for these pods will be comparable to the production rate of polypropylene (PP) capsules. The next step is to combine the rigid thermoformed capsule with a nonwoven filter and multi-layer top lidding solution , which is also made from Ingeo. This decision was made as the manufacturers stated that ‘using one primary material through all three components of a coffee pod is more cost effective and offers greater consistency when heat sealing the components together, thus preserving the taste and aroma of the enclosed coffee.’

Once the design was complete, the companies then submitted it for testing and validation with IMA Coffee Lab. These validation tests on the new solution involved compatibility tests, which were performed on the rigid capsules, filter, and finally, the top lidding films. Microleakage detection testing was also performed, with the intention of ensuring the optimal material sealing parameters and limits, as well as any limits for the compostable components. These tests were all conducted for the purpose of ensuring the pod is compostable and displayed reliable performance, especially when it is brewing pods. Another purpose of running these tests, was to identify the suitable set up of IMA packaging machineries, which will operate the assembly, filling and sealing of the pods. This test was required to make sure that this process could be performed successfully and efficiently at commercial line speeds.

Strategic marketing manager, single serve beverages, at NatureWorks, Flavio Di Marcotullio, commented, “This solution removes the burden from brands and roasters who are looking for a compostable pod with a long shelf life that preserves the taste and aroma of the coffee. These Ingeo pods provide a reliable brewing experience for consumers, can be produced at commercial speeds, and do not sacrifice expected performance for sustainability.”

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