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Nespresso, UNSW find new uses for recycled aluminium-based food packaging

Nespresso capsules
Nespresso capsules
Recycling used capsules is a major focus for Nespresso.

Capsule-coffee brand Nespresso and researchers from the UNSW Smart Centre have discovered new ways to use aluminium recycled from food packaging. 

Broadly put, the research has found a way to provide a new life for polymer-laminated aluminium packaging (PLAP) materials in steel making. 

The Nestle-owned brand is known around the world for developing innovative ways to reduce wastage from its single-used capsules. In Amsterdam one of its stores showcases a bicycle made primarily of recycled capsules. 

This time, however, the solution appears to have more widespread applications impacting Australia’s aluminium recycling and smelting sectors. 

Hub and Smart Centre director, Professor Veena Sahajwalla, said the discovery was five years in the making.  

“For the first time, we have demonstrated that using waste food packaging containing aluminium, such as chip packets and spent coffee capsules, can become a useful resource in the steelmaking process,” she said. 

“Our multi-material waste containing aluminium could be useful in steel making. This type of quality waste material, not subject to conventional recycling, could be transformed into a resource, suitable for the chemical reactions needed to remove oxygen in the steelmaking process.

“The benefits of using discarded waste PLAP materials provides a wonderful solution for food and coffee packaging. We now know from this research that this waste material is an under-valued resource.” 

Marta Fernandes, technical and quality manager at Nespresso Australia and Oceania, said the research demonstrates the company’s investment in building a local recycling scheme that has enabled all of its customers around the country to recycle their used Nespresso aluminium capsules via more than 19,000 collection points. 

“Recycling and helping to find circular outcomes for waste materials are a big part of the company’s broader sustainability efforts, which include bringing capsules made from 80-per-cent recycled aluminium to the Australian market, sourcing over 94 per cent of coffee through its AAA Sustainable Quality program and committing to be fully carbon neutral by 2022.

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