The benefits of aluminium coffee podsby Ben Sibley
Efficiencies made to the recycling stream mean aluminium is now undeniably the optimal material for high-quality coffee pods.
The question has always been obvious – are we confident that coffee pods can deliver the same high-quality flavour experience that our wholebean coffees do, and can this be achieved with the least wastage possible?
Finding the answer hasn’t been as straightforward. First-and-foremost, we’ve taken time to dial in on the optimum coffee for our pods. Rather than repurposing one of our wholebean coffees, we want a coffee with the qualities to most consistently deliver the flavour and texture you would expect from an Assembly coffee pod. All our coffees are sourced with their end use as the primary consideration, why would our pods be any different?
Meanwhile, discourse on the available materials piqued our interest and we understood that of all the options, aluminium presented the least drawbacks and the most benefits.
The most abundant metal in Earth’s crust and the third-most abundant element on the planet, aluminium is lightweight, strong, flexible and versatile. It’s used for everything from kitchen utensils to airplane parts, beer kegs to baseball bats.
It's an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, odourless, impermeable (non-toxic) and even generates a protective coating when exposed to oxygen.
And, crucially, it retains all of its original properties when recycled. Which it can be, easily, efficiently and infinitely. Since the first mass production of aluminium in the 1880s, it's estimated that 75% of all the material ever produced is still in use today. And recycling aluminium requires 95% less energy, and produces 95% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, than manufacturing primary aluminium.
The five key benefits of aluminium
Our research identified four key benefits of using aluminium for our coffee pods:
1 - It delivers the highest level of consistency and quality of any available material, with a low fail rate and a good amount of crema, even as the ground coffee inside ages
2 - It’s an abundant metal that is widely available and created within a low-cost, efficient infrastructure
3 - It’s infinitely recyclable – in the UK, aluminium’s journey from one beverage can to another can be as short as 60 days
4 - It’s kinder to coffee pod machines, as it requires less pressure to pierce than alternative materials
5 - It facilitates a much longer shelf-life than alternative materials, reducing waste.
Despite this, our concerns around the efficiency and efficacy of the United Kingdom’s aluminium post-consumer streams were significant enough for us to press pause on coffee pods.
That was, until now. A new cross-industry scheme has gone some way to getting used aluminium coffee pods into a circular recycling process more effectively than ever before.
A nationwide, not-for-profit service, Podback makes recycling used coffee pods as easy as possible. While aluminium capsules have always been recyclable, their small size and the presence of organic matter (used coffee grounds) means they have often ended up in the waste stream of recycling facilities.
Podback offers a comprehensive solution to this. Depending on where you live in the UK, there are two ways in which used coffee pods can be recycled – a kerbside collection service and a drop-off scheme.
Pods processed in the scheme are transported to specialised facilities where the coffee grounds and aluminium get separated. The grounds are converted to renewable energy (biogas) and fed directly into the national power network.
The used metal is sent to a second reprocessor in Cheshire - Novelis UK - and used in the manufacture of packaging (beverage cans) or car components.
Once into the beverage can recycling stream, used cans be reprocessed, remade and ready for re-sale in around 60 days. In a whole year, that one can could be recycled eight times, saving enough energy to make 160 new cans.
Assembly Coffee Caps - Selected Espresso
With the Podback scheme presenting what could be the final piece of the aluminium coffee pod puzzle, earlier this year we once again pressed play on Assembly Coffee Caps.
Our first ever coffee pod features a naturally-processed Peruvian coffee which we’ve roasted to a profile fine-tuned for pod brewing. And with an aluminium casing protecting the freshly-roasted coffee from oxidation, Assembly Selected Espresso Coffee Caps give you a cup full of rich flavours and velvety texture from the first cap to the last.
Find out more here: Assembly Coffee Caps - Selected Espresso.
Sources: Alupro; Every Can Counts; Podback