How used coffee capsules are recycled to grow vegetables

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Did you know that the coffee you use to get your daily latte fix also helps in growing the vegetables you eat at dinner?

Say, what?

It's true. With more homes and workplaces installing coffee machines that allow coffee junkies to get an aromatic cup of joe within seconds, there has been growing attention on the environmental impact of used coffee capsules. Some critics have even called them an "environmental menace".

Swiss food giant Nestle's Nespresso has come up with an innovative and somewhat unexpected solution: organic vegetable farming.

In Singapore, Nespresso has collected and recycled its used capsules since 2012, which are then sun-dried to separate the used coffee grounds from the aluminium. For the past two years, it has also partnered with local organic produce distributor Quan Fa Organic Farm to use coffee grounds as compost for farming.

Mr Matthieu Pougin, country manager of Nespresso Singapore, highlighted that Singapore is the first country in Asia to completely close the recycling loop as both the components of the coffee pod are recycled. The aluminium is re-melted and reused in manufacturing new products such as window frames, while the coffee grounds are sent to the farm.

At Quan Fa, located along Murai Farmway off Lim Chu Kang, the used coffee grounds are mixed with vegetable waste, sawdust, yeast and soil and used as compost and fertiliser all around the two-hectare farm.

Mr Fabian Liao, the farm's marketing manager, explained that using coffee grounds in compost improves drainage, water retention and aeration in the soil.

"It also improves the acidity level of the soil and is an excellent natural pest repellant, helping us keep slugs and snails away from the vegetables without having to use pesticides," he said, adding that the farm uses between 100kg and 300kg of compost every day.

When the vegetables are ready, they are harvested to be consumed or sold at supermarkets and other retail outlets around the island.

For Mr Pougin, Nespresso's current focus is on making the recycling process as smooth as possible for customers. To this end, customers can drop their used pods at Nespresso boutiques at ION Orchard and Takashimaya department store. They can also opt for the Recycling@Home initiative, in which a courier will collect used capsules while delivering a new order.

Mr Pougin expressed hope that making recycling more convenient would help the programme get a more positive response, a sentiment echoed by customer Ji Ya Ling, 33, who has participated in the recycling initiative ever since she first bought her coffee machine.

"It is very convenient because my I can just pass the capsules to the deliveryman when he comes with our orders," the doctoral student said, adding that her family could recycle up to 20 capsules in one week.

Nespresso also recently launched its "One Pod at a Time" campaign to increase participation in its recycling programme by unveiling a vignette of five short films featuring Chef Tetsuya Wakuda of Marina Bay Sands' Waku Ghin, Tracy Phillips, Henry Golding, Anita Kapoor and Velda Tan.

Mr Pougin remarked that the brand does not just want to deliver a good coffee experience to its customers, but also wanted to encourage more people in Singapore to lead sustainable lifestyles.

"By making it convenient, and also educating people so they understand exactly how their actions are contributing to local society, we hope they will be more invested in the process and more willing to participate," he said.

Mr Matthieu Pougin, country manager for Nespresso Singapore. Photo: The Business Times

seanyap@sph.com.sg