‘Nespresso coffee – official photo’ by Nespresso

Huhtamaki recently utilised its Fiber Solutions technology to partner with Nestlé and provide its Nespresso brand with paper-based, home-compostable coffee capsules. We followed up with Thomasine Kamerling, Huhtamaki’s executive vice president for Sustainability and Communications, to learn more about this collaboration, and where she expects fibre-based packaging to go next.

First things first, could you give us a brief rundown of your collaboration with Nestlé on this project? What were the major challenges that had to be overcome during the R&D process?

We started an exclusive partnership with one of the largest coffee brands, Nespresso, in early 2021 to develop a home-compostable, paper-based coffee capsule and provide consumers with another choice to Nespresso’s existing capsules.

At Huhtamaki, we use a Lean approach to product and process development. In practice, this means that we work on sets of ideas rather than single ideas. We identify multiple alternatives and eliminate them only when they are proven inferior or non-feasible. Through this process of elimination, we converge fast to the solution through the use of innovation sprints (“Learn – Build – Measure – Repeat”).

This solution makes use of Huhtamaki’s wood fibre moulding technology – could you tell us a bit more about it?

Huhtamaki’s proprietary high-precision technology allows wood fibre to be moulded into intricate shapes. It enables the use of renewable wood fibre to replace other materials in food packaging such as fossil-based rigid plastics, which are currently the common choice given their functionalities.

Our expertise and processes cover market exploration to ideas generation and technology development and deployment. Simply put, Huhtamaki is the only company in the field that has all the disciplines interacting together in a well-designed innovation process.

What other applications could this process potentially be used for?

We see this technology as a paradigm shift in how we can use renewable wood fibre in complex food packaging. This innovation opens new avenues when it comes to the use of fibre in food packaging.

Additionally, we see the development of this technology as a game changer in sustainable packaging. It offers both high levels of sustainability and functionality, opening up a range of possibilities to replace other materials such as rigid plastics. Potential applications are trays or containers that require lids that seal directly to the tray and are able to open/re-close.

The capsules are made using 82% paper pulp and include a thin compostable biopolymer film as a protective barrier. Could you give us a breakdown of all the elements of the product?

Our wood fibre will be sourced from certified, sustainably managed forests in Europe and account for 82% of the capsule. The liquid-proof barrier in the product is a biofilm. The paper-based coffee capsules are certified as “OK compost HOME and INDUSTRIAL” by TÜV Austria.

The capsules are designed for home composting and, as you say, have been independently certified as such by TÜV Austria. What does the certification mean in practice? Under what conditions are they compostable?

Since the paper-based capsules are certified for home composting, you can place your used capsule straight into your home composter with your other organic waste. They are also certified as industrially compostable.

What does the future hold for this innovation? Can we expect it to be rolled out more widely in the future?

Nespresso announced the home compostable paper-based Nespresso coffee capsules on 21st November 2022. The capsules will initially be piloted with consumers in France and Switzerland in spring 2023 before being introduced more widely.