Promoting a circular economy for plastic coffee capsules in Portugal

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Poster Number:  26 

Main Presenter:    Samara Costa 

Co-Authors:   Hector Nunes     Bruno Silva      Clara Gonçalves      Filipa Pinho      Catarina Basto-Silva                        

The coffee capsules emerge in the last century as a quick, clean, and practical way to consume coffee in an array-up society. In the global market, in 2023, the consumption of coffee capsules represented approximately 12.2 billion euros, marking an increase of 7.9% compared to the year 2022 [1]. However, this continuous increase over the years also brings some concerns, mainly about the waste that this consumption can promote. The coffee capsules have a complex composition, which includes plastic, aluminium, and coffee grounds, and this complexity seems to affect recycling.
In this context emerged the Recycle+ project which promotes the circular economy concept, and where the aim is to reduce the environmental impact associated with coffee capsules. For that, the project (i) modified the design of the capsules based on recyclability concepts, (ii) optimize the material of the capsules, promoting mono-material capsules, (iii) promoted a reverse logistics system for the collection of post-consumption capsules in supermarkets, supported by a Portuguese food retailer. , in order to increase the quality and quantity of the recycled materials, and finally (iv) developed a new coffee capsules container produced itself with the capsules collected by the reverse logistics system establish previously.
The present work aims to present a comparative Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) between the circular economy approach promoted by the Recycle+ project versus the linear end-of-life of traditional coffee capsules.
The LCA methodology follows ISO 14040 (2006) [2] and 14044 (2010) [3] and enables the measurement of environmental impacts throughout the entire life cycle of a product, process or service. This methodology included four mandatory steps: (i) goal and scope definition, (ii) life cycle inventory, (iii) life cycle impact analysis, and (iv) interpretation of results. In the case of this work, the scope and the system boundary follow what was described previously, considering an approach cradle-to-grave, which covers everything from the raw material production until the end-of-life of the coffee capsules. The inventory data was provided mainly by the entities involved in this project, and it was applied the ReCiPe 2016 (V1.1.) Endpoint- Hierarchist perspective as a method available in SimaPro software (version, PRé Sustainability, The Netherlands).
The project is still running, but the expected outcomes include a lower environmental impact for the end-of-life of coffee capsules.
This new life for capsules reduces the waste, minimizes the environmental impact, and generates more economic value from the waste produced.
Acknowledgements: This research was supported by the NextGenerationEU program as Recovery and Resilience Facility Plan applied in Portugal, with the code number RE-CO5-i01.02 Sustainable Plastics, WP2 PPS6 Recycle+.

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