Consumers today pay more attention to the sustainability of products. New products want to be sustainable and advertise with it. However, these are often only statements of the producers without any verification. However, it is different in this case: The home compostable coffee capsule produced by the company Golden Compound was subjected to an evaluation of sustainability by nova-Institute according to VDI-4605 standard. The new coffee capsule made of bio-based plastic and sunflower shells was compared to a conventional coffee capsule made of polypropylene (PP), one of the best petrochemical plastics in ecological terms. And the Golden Compound capsule was able to clearly win the comparison of overall sustainability.
VDI-4605 standard on Sustainability Assessment represents a simple and transparent procedure for the reproducible, comparative sustainability assessment of products. The aim is to deal with all three dimensions of sustainability in order to balance the environmental, economic and social aspects. The VDI indicators are based on the German government’s sustainability strategy, which is partly based on the 17 goals for sustainable development of the United Nations.
When evaluating a process or a product for sustainability, a reference state must always be defined with which the product to be evaluated can be compared. The evaluation of the indicators should be carried out quantitatively as much as possible. If this is not feasible, a detailed qualitative evaluation is adequate. In the evaluation, the scores for each indicator for better (+1), approximately equal (0) and worse (-1) performance than the reference product/process are assigned and the overall score for all indicators is summed up in the end.
In the VDI sustainability comparison, the compostable coffee capsule was rated +7 points overall compared to a PP capsule. By using bio-based raw materials, the Golden Compound capsule reduces fossil material consumption by 510 g of crude oil and 1.1 kg of bauxite per 1,000 capsules, compared to plastic capsules made of polypropylene (PP) and an aluminium lid, since 60 % of the capsule incorporates renewable carbon. The countries of origin of the Golden Compound capsule’s raw materials are Canada and Bulgaria, production takes place in Thailand, Germany and Austria, while crude oil mainly originates from the Middle East, Africa and South America.
Due to its biodegradability in home compost, the capsule scores particularly well in social criteria such as toxicology and health, working conditions, equality and social acceptance. The new capsule can also score well in “economy” – not yet so much in “economic efficiency”, but in “economic provision for the future” and “international cooperation”.
The new, home compostable coffee capsule is not yet completely convincing in terms of “ecology”, which may surprise at first. There are two main reasons for this: Land use and water usage are usually worse for renewable raw materials than for petrochemicals.
In energy efficiency and climate protection, the fact that both the material properties and the production processes are not yet as optimised as in petrochemicals, contributes to this disadvantage. Since bio-based plastic production has just started, there is a considerable potential for optimising the indicators of energy efficiency, primary energy consumption, greenhouse gas potential and unit costs compared with the large-volume petrochemicals that have been well-established and optimised for decades. In addition, the Golden Compound capsule currently requires more material than the PP capsule. It can be expected that the currently higher capsule weight can be reduced by further improving the bio-based plastic and compound used. The reduction of waste streams through home composting of used coffee capsules and the increased use of renewable energies and renewable materials are already better. Furthermore, the life cycle assessment has already shown that environmental indicators can be improved by shifting to fully bio-based raw materials for a fully bio-based plastic production. Overall, significant progress can be expected in the coming years, which will further improve the already excellent result and will make the Golden Compound capsule even more sustainable.
The short version of the sustainability assessment can be downloaded at www.bio-based.eu/ecology/#GoldenCompound
Source: nova-Institut GmbH, 2019-05-21.
Author: Andreas Scharf, Michael Carus