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Featured Olaf Schauspielhaus ChinaWirtschaft Barbara Wittmann KBV (Kassenärztliche Bundesvereinigung)

Paper instead of aluminum – Nespresso suddenly gave in to the long-standing capsule dispute

So far, the case has been clear for the Nestlé Group: the Nespresso coffee capsule system is environmentally friendly, despite the large amount of aluminum waste from the colorful little capsules.

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Paper instead of aluminum – Nespresso suddenly gave in to the long-standing capsule dispute

So far, the case has been clear for the Nestlé Group: the Nespresso coffee capsule system is environmentally friendly, despite the large amount of aluminum waste from the colorful little capsules. No argument was too absurd for the managers.

The former Nestlé boss Paul Bulcke, for example, calculated in interviews that you have to include the entire environmental impact of conventionally brewed espresso - including the boilers in the traditional Italian coffee machine that run for hours and the regular visit of a plumber to unclog sewage pipes clogged with coffee grounds to clean.

But now, 36 years after the market launch, Nestlé is giving in. From the coming year, in addition to the well-known aluminum capsules, capsules made from a newly developed paper-based material will also come onto the market. These capsules should be compostable at home – or better yet, in the garden. Nestlé is thus following the example of third-party manufacturers, who have been competing with the group for years with ecological arguments.

Because the patent on the capsules expired in 2011. Since then, third parties have been allowed to manufacture capsules that fit into the machines. Initially, Nestlé tried to make it more difficult to use by slightly modifying new machines. In recent years, however, Nestlé has primarily argued with the taste: the original made of aluminum should best preserve the aroma.

This was also directed against those capsules that are made of supposedly compostable plastic. That's why there was always a dispute: even the German Environmental Aid and the Ökoinstitut warned that such capsules should not be used in practice to create new topsoil. Rather, they made it difficult to collect organic waste in the brown bin.

However, capsules made from paper fibers have also come onto the market, which are easier to compost. So far, Nespresso itself has argued that its own capsules could be recycled via the yellow bag.

At the same time, Nestlé offered to return the capsules to the branches. Bulcke insisted: "Nespresso causes only 75 percent of the environmental impact of a filter coffee - believe it or not." But the brand has not been able to shake off its lousy ecological image with its protestations - despite the mantra-like repetition of the well-known arguments.

So now Nestlé is giving in and offering an alternative to their own aluminum capsules, which have been touted for decades. Nespresso has been researching the new solution together with the Nestlé Packaging Institute for three years, Nespresso said.

The result is a paper-based capsule that can be composted privately and in industrial plants and at the same time protects the aroma. In some European countries it is also allowed in the organic waste bin.

This applies to France, among other things, where the capsule will first be launched on the market together with Nestlé's home country Switzerland in spring 2023. In the course of the coming year, the four varieties should be available in other European countries. A Nespresso spokeswoman said on request whether Germany would be there. That also depends on how customers react to the market test.

Apparently, the open flank in the brand's eco-strategy, the high aluminum consumption, seemed outdated for the luxury coffee brand. Nespresso has been giving itself a sustainable coat of paint for a long time. 80 percent of the capsules are said to be made from recycled aluminum. There are also marketing gags such as pocket knives made from old aluminum capsules. Some varieties are also fair trade.

Because for Nespresso, the clean brand image is worth a lot of money. After all, ground coffee costs a whopping 75.44 euros per kilogram at Nespresso - multiple of the price for beans for fully automatic machines. Last year, sales of CHF 6.4 billion and operating profit of CHF 1.5 billion came together. Despite the competition from imitators, Nespresso is still one of the most profitable business areas in the Nestlé group.

Climate change is a medium-term threat to the business model. This is what the latest campaign with the long-standing brand ambassador George Clooney aims to point out under the slogan "The Empty Cup".

"Experts estimate that 60 percent of wild coffee species are currently threatened with extinction and 50 percent of the land currently used for coffee cultivation could be unprofitable by 2050," Nespresso said at the end of September to extend its collaboration with the US actor. The new packaging cannot harm the credibility of this commitment to sustainability.

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