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U of G research keeps coffee pods out of landfills

Research aimed at keeping up to 15 billion coffee pods out of landfills leads to Innovation of the Year Award
20160617 COFFEE PODS U of G ts
Professor Amar K. Mohanty director of the Bioproducts Discovery & Development Centre at the University of Guelph holds up a jar of coffee chaff and a compostable coffee pod. Troy Bridgeman for GuelphToday

Single-serving coffee pods have changed the way many people get their morning brew but their impact on landfills and the environment has created grounds for concern.

“By making the single-serve coffee pods compostable, it opens the possibility to divert an estimated 15 billion coffee pods annually,” said Prof. Amar Mohanty, director of the Bioproducts Discovery and Development Centre at the University of Guelph.   “This is a very real issue and we decided to do something about it.”

Mohanty and his team at the BDDC brought in industry partners including Toronto-based, Club Coffee, Fourmark Manufacturing of Oakville and CG Technology of Leamington to help with their research.

“Innovation requires alignment of the partners involved and mutual respect, for it be taken to market,” said Mohanty. “We were fortunate that this happened.”

The new product not only diverts coffee pods away from municipal landfills but also repurposes waste created during the coffee roasting process.

“We had the idea of using a waste stream of the coffee industry - coffee chaff,” said Mohanty.  “It is the outer covering of the coffee bean, that comes out during roasting of the coffee bean. There is about 100 million pounds of chaff disposed of in Canada each year.”

The product they developed, the PurPod 100, replaces a plastic ring on the coffee pod with a biodegradable ring that can therefore be composted.

“It is a blend of biopolymers combined with significant amount of coffee chaff,” said Mohanty.

The BDDC is a leader in the research of bioresins and other plant based alternatives to fossil-fuel-based products.  The success of the coffee pod project demonstrates how businesses and researchers can work together to develop environmentally sustainable products and processes.

Mohanty and his team were recent recipients of the Innovation of the Year Award as part of the 2016 LAAIR (Learning to Accelerated Adoption of Innovative Research) Award at the University of Guelph.

“I felt humbled and honoured,” said Mohanty.  “I am glad that the economic and environmental impact of this innovation was judged to be significant by the jury.”   

He was quick to point out he didn’t do it alone.

“A team of seven researchers were involved and yes, these comprised of graduate and post doc researchers,” he said.

The development process for the PurPod 100 took less than 18 months from inception to market.  They are already on grocery store shelves in coffee pods marketed by a growing list of companies including Hills, Copper Moon and Presidents Choice.

“Normally it takes around three years for innovation like this to go to market - even longer,” said Mohanty. “This was quick because of the research expertise, tremendous commitment and sense of urgency demonstrated by all.”

The Biodegradable Products Institute in New York has certified the product, which allows companies in the United States to advertise their coffee pods made with PurPod 100 rings as 100 per cent compostable.

The rules are different in Canada and it will take a while before every individual municipality in Canada accepts them into their composting facilities. 

Mohanty is confident that all municipalities will eventually embrace these types of products. He said researchers at the BDDC are dedicated to developing new products and processes that will reduce waste.

“We have always believed that there is no such thing as waste,” said Mohanty. “Waste is a co-product or a byproduct of some process or crop looking for an opportunity. We found one” 


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Troy Bridgeman

About the Author: Troy Bridgeman

Troy Bridgeman is a multi-media journalist that has lived and worked in the Guelph community his whole life. He has covered news and events in the city for more than two decades.
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