Forty billion: that’s the estimated number of single-use coffee pods that end up in landfills every year. It’s a staggering amount of plastic waste; if the pods were placed end-to-end, that’s enough to wrap around the Earth 11 times. This massive global problem is what has driven the team at NEXE Innovations to develop a more sustainable, guilt-free way to start off your morning.
“We wanted to create a compostable pod to tackle this problem – and make sure the coffee still tasted great,” said Dr. Zac Hudson, Chief Science Officer at NEXE Innovations and one of the brains behind the NEXE pod, the plant-based, compostable capsule supporting the XOMA Superfoods brand.
Dr. Hudson, who is also an Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Chemistry at the University of British Columbia, has spent the last three years overcoming one challenge after another as the team at NEXE worked towards this month’s limited commercial launch of the XOMA Superfoods Micro-Ground Soluble Coffee with MCT oil.
They first had to develop a new kind of bioplastic, one that could survive the heat and pressure involved in making a great cup of coffee. “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,” said Hudson.
Keeping the coffee fresh was also a big challenge. Many compostable pods already on the market are soft-bottomed, exposing the coffee grounds to moisture and air and making them go stale fairly quickly. They also tend to be smaller and hold less grounds than traditional petroleum-based coffee pods, which makes for a relatively weak brew.
In the end, the final design included two new engineered components: an outer fibre jacket made from bamboo and an inner capsule made of bioplastics, designed to break down into carbon dioxide, water and organic biomass in the compost.
“A regular plastic pod can take hundreds or thousands of years to break down, and you still have microplastics and soil toxicity issues left to deal with,” said Dr. Hudson. “The NEXE pod composts completely in as little as 35 days in industrial compost, leaving no microplastics or ecotoxic byproducts behind.”
The NEXE pod meets international standards for certification as compostable. Dr. Hudson and the NEXE team are also currently working on home composting solutions for the pods.
A limited commercial launch of the XOMA Superfoods Micro-Ground Soluble Coffee with MCT oil in early February sold out in hours, demonstrating the huge, pent-up demand for environmentally sustainable packaging solutions.
The existing pods are compatible with all Keurig K-Cup brewing systems and NEXE Innovations recently announced that it would begin production of Nespresso-compatible pods later in 2021. The company is also adding additional manufacturing capacity to meet the demand for environmentally sustainable, guilt-free coffee.