June 16, 2023

Can commercially compostable coffee capsules be composted at home?

People love coffee capsules. They’re the go-to choice for millions of at-home coffee consumers and they’re also becoming increasingly popular with a range of businesses, including hotels, offices, and restaurants.

With this degree of popularity, however, waste is understandably part of the conversation. In 2021, it was estimated that around 350,000 plastic coffee capsules end up in landfills per year!

Questions have been raised around the responsible manufacture and disposal of coffee capsules for some time – so it’s no surprise that consumers expect the businesses they buy from to play a role.

In response to this, one of the biggest developments has been the growth of compostable coffee capsules. But there is more nuance to compostability than many consumers expect. For example, many coffee drinkers might not know what makes commercially compostable coffee capsules different from home compostable alternatives.

Read on to learn more about these differences, for more detail on composting in the US, and if it’s possible to responsibly dispose of commercially compostable coffee capsules at home.

A compost heap used for regular composting.

What is composting?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, compost is “a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land”.

By that definition, composting is the process of transforming organic matter – whether that’s paper, food waste, or something else – into usable compost.

A material can only be classed as compostable if it can be completely broken down into non-toxic compounds, including:

  • Water
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Biomass (matter from dead organisms)

When they are composted properly, these materials can break down without causing any harm to the environment. However, not all materials compost at the same rate and some substances require specific conditions to break down. Generally speaking, these conditions include a certain temperature, specific humidity levels, and the presence of specific microorganisms.

There can also be confusion about what “compostable” and “biodegradable” mean. Well, if something is "biodegradable", that means that eventually, it will break down naturally over time. So, while composting is a form of biodegradation, not all biodegradable materials are compostable.

And when we talk about materials biodegrading, it’s usually in very broad terms. There's also not really a timeframe attached to it – something could degrade in six months or thousands of years. That's why it's so hard to certify anything as "biodegradable", and why it can even be misleading in some situations.

For instance, an aluminum can could technically be considered biodegradable, even though it’ll take up to 400 years to decompose. Some non-compostable plastics will even decompose over time under very specific conditions. And even as they do decompose, these waste products can still leach potentially harmful byproducts into the soil.

In contrast, most certified commercially compostable products can be reduced to organic material in a matter of weeks – with no harm to the surrounding environment.

A commercial composting facility that accepts compostable coffee capsules.

What’s the difference between home composting and commercial composting?

Home composting is simple. Just add your food scraps, garden refuse, or other home compostable materials to a compost heap or bin. Over time, microorganisms break down the materials. Eventually, this produces fertilizer that can be used for gardening!

But not all compostable products are suitable for home composting, such as commercially compostable coffee capsules. This is because some products require more stringent conditions to compost than a home compost heap or bin can provide.

As such, we have to differentiate between home compostable and commercially compostable products. This can even be the case for products that are fully plant-based, like bioplastics.

Commercial composting regulations in the US

In the US, there are two bodies responsible for regulating commercial compostability:

To be classified as industrially or commercially compostable, a product must first undergo testing and pass stringent ASTM D6400 criteria. This requires the product in question to break down both physically and chemically within 180 days.

ASTM International and the FTC only establish the regulations for compostability, however – other bodies certify products according to these regulations.

For example, Metropolis Coffee’s commercially compostable espresso capsules hold certifications with both BPI and CMA. This means that they pass the strictest standards for composting in the US.

The Metropolis Coffee facility that manufactures commercially compostable coffee capsules.

Can commercially compostable coffee capsules be disposed of in a home composter?

Put simply: no, commercially compostable coffee capsules can’t go in the home composter.

Home composters simply don’t produce the right environment for commercially compostable coffee capsules to break down – which is why specialist facilities have to handle disposal.

Commercial composting plants provide an optimal environment for materials like compostable coffee capsules to break down. Once the composting process is complete, these facilities sell the compost to farms, plant nurseries, or individuals, depending on how the facility is organized.

Plant-based sustainable coffee capsules

At Metropolis Coffee, we exclusively make commercially compostable espresso capsules that are compatible with Nespresso original line brewers.

That means that used Metropolis espresso capsules can be disposed of at any commercial composting facility across the US.

If you're looking to buy commercially compostable coffee capsules on a wholesale basis, check out our capsule range here. But if you're looking for more tailored options, we also offer private-label espresso capsules and a co-packing service.

With private-label espresso capsules, we work with you to design a blend suited to your requirements. We then grind, fill, seal, and flush the capsules using our cutting-edge Italian filling machine, before putting your brand on the capsules.

With co-packing, you provide the coffee, and we do the rest – it’s your beans and your brand.

Interested in learning more? Check out our wholesale co-packing and private-label espresso capsule solutions today.

Certified compostable facilities may not exist in your area. To find a composter near you, visit www.findacomposter.com or www.compostnow.org on all packaging and marketing materials.

Metropolis Coffee is not affiliated with, endorsed, or sponsored by Nespresso. Nespresso is a registered trademark of Société des Produits Nestlé.