How promising are coffee capsules made from recycled aluminum?
They are colorful, easy to handle and provide plenty of variety in the coffee kitchen - aluminum coffee capsules. Due to its resistance to high temperatures, aluminum is often used as a packaging material for coffee capsules and various other products. The fact that the extraction of aluminum is associated with enormous energy consumption and high environmental impact is accepted by coffee capsule manufacturers, since the light metal promises a long shelf life for the product it contains and it would supposedly be easy to recycle. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
In this blog post, you'll learn why this is a myth and why the recycling concept doesn't work out in the long run.
© Photo by Jisu Han on Unsplash
Too good to be true
In practice, a distinction is made between primary aluminum, which is the first aluminum to be extracted, and secondary aluminum, which consists of recycled aluminum residues. Secondary aluminum is backed by a lot of promises: Only 5 percent of the original energy is consumed in its production compared to primary aluminum. In addition, aluminum associations, among others, state that aluminum can be recycled ad infinitum without any loss of quality.  At first glance, this seems to be a promising concept.
This theory assumes that in the case of aluminum capsules, they are properly disposed of by the end user. Thomas Fischer, Head of Circular Economy at Deutsche Umwelthilfe e. V., argues against this and explains that aluminum capsules are "to a large extent disposed of in residual waste and then incinerated". One reason for this is that, according to the Packaging Act, coffee capsules that are not completely emptied of residual waste are, in purely legal terms, to be regarded as residual waste. And let's face it, doesn't that apply in principle to all aluminum capsules - what end user cuts open each capsule to dispose of the brewed coffee grounds separately? Some coffee capsule suppliers pay for the Green Dot so that consumers can still dispose of their products in the yellow bag or via the yellow garbage can. However, in most cases this is unfortunately not obvious to the consumer and there is no uniform regulation for this.
Even if the aluminum coffee capsules are disposed of properly, other problems still arise.
The myth of aluminum recycling
"The one aluminum" does not exist. This is because up to 450 different aluminum mixtures, so-called alloys, are created by melting together with other metals. These differ in their properties, such as hardenability and strength. Consequently, the alloys are used in different ways: from alloys for means of transport to alloys for packaging or household appliances.
When disposed of properly, these different alloys end up in the same waste facilities, where they are melted into a common material and then difficult to separate again.
On the other hand, the material is usually subjected to so-called pyrolysis because of the coffee residues or composite materials. In this process, the aluminum is pretreated to remove organic residues such as the coffee grounds in the capsule. Here, the material suffers due to the additional process step.
The result is a loss of quality of the recycled aluminum, the so-called downcycling. Depending on the physical requirements of the material for the above applications, the lower-quality aluminum may or may not be sufficient. Only by adding new aluminum can the secondary aluminum be upgraded in quality for further processing.
In fact, in the case of coffee capsules, pure secondary aluminum would be exposed to too high temperatures during the brewing process and thus would not withstand the requirements. Suppliers of aluminum capsules will therefore not succeed in completely closing the recycling loop according to the current state of the art and will thus continue to depend on primary aluminum.
"The head is round so that thinking can change direction."
Annual aluminum coffee capsule consumption - a thought experiment
According to calculations by the German environmental organization DUH, the consumption of coffee capsules throughout Germany amounted to around 3.4 billion capsules in 2019 . In our example, we assume that half of these were aluminum coffee capsules.
1.7 billion aluminum capsules
side by side correspond to a distance of 62,900 km.* This is equivalent to about 1.5 circumnavigations of the earth. **
* With a diameter of 37 mm of an original Nespresso®*** coffee capsule.
** The circumference of the equator is about 40,075 km.
*** This trademark belongs to third parties who have no connection to rezemo GmbH.
2,890 tons of aluminum waste
are produced by 1.7 billion aluminum capsules (1.7 g each). This amount is needed to produce about 15,211 electric cars.****
**** With a processing of 190 kg of aluminum. This amount was used for the Tesla Model S (2015 vintage).
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© Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash
How the production of aluminum negatively affects our ecosystem
Not only does the production of primary aluminum consume a lot of energy, but above all it contributes to a significant environmental impact on nature, animals and people.
In nature, bauxite occurs frequently as aluminum ore in the earth's crust and is largely mined in Australia, China, Guinea and Brazil. However, the reactive aluminum is only present in a bound state with other elements and must be extracted in an energy-intensive process. In the following, we address an excerpt of the problems associated with aluminum mining.
Problem #1: Rainforest Deforestation
Many of the producing countries mine the bauxite needed for aluminum in the middle of their rainforest areas. In the process, the habitat valuable for flora and fauna is destroyed and millions of tons of carbon dioxide are emitted.  The Brazilian rainforest is particularly hard hit by bauxite mining: for example, around 100 hectares of tropical forest are cleared every year at Porto Trombetas, the world's third-largest bauxite plant.  While the industry is committed to reforestation in the areas, "full restoration of biodiversity and species richness [...] is not achievable." 
Problem #2: Toxic red mud
Generally, aluminum extraction takes place in two steps: First by extracting alumina through the Bayer process and then through electrolysis. This Bayer process dissolves the aluminum oxide out of the bauxite rock with the help of caustic soda. At the same time, iron oxide hydrate also dissolves out as red mud, which is very toxic. Through leaks or dam breaches, the red mud is released into the environment along with other toxic metals. This results in a high health risk for animals and humans. Among other things, fish die in the nearby waters, the drinking water is contaminated or severe skin diseases occur.
Problem No. 3: High energy consumption
The subsequent electrolysis and aluminum smelting are very energy-intensive. Around 15 MWh of energy is required per ton of aluminum. This corresponds to the average 5-year consumption of a 2-person household. 
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Stop the aluminum waste with rezemo
No matter how you slice it, whether you use recycled secondary aluminum for the disposable product or not, what you end up with is a huge mountain of waste that is an absolutely unnecessary energy and environmental burden.
That's why we offer our rezemo coffee capsules as a sustainable alternative to frahling lovers who want to continue enjoying their coffee without a guilty conscience.
How it works: Our rezemo coffee capsules are predominantly made from the renewable raw material wood. For this purpose, we use only PEFC-certified wood, as this is grown and processed under the strictest ecological standards. This ensures that only as much wood is processed as can grow back. In addition, the wood comes regionally from the forests of southern Germany.
Since the German Organic Waste Ordinance prohibits the disposal of any packaging, including coffee capsules, these must be disposed of in the residual waste. Even if you dispose of the wooden capsules in the residual waste, only the amount ofCO2 is released during incineration that the natural material has already absorbed during its lifetime. Throughout the entire value chain, rezemo coffee capsules save 55% of theCO2 emissions compared to aluminum capsules. [ 10] This means that you can enjoy coffee that not only tastes great, but also helps us all to maintain our valuable ecosystem for the future.
Wooden outside - grandiose taste inside!
SEE FOR YOURSELF - TO OUR SHOP
 Cf. Aluminium Deutschland e.V. https://www. allesueberalu.de/Recycling.html
 German Environmental Aid. https://www.duh.de/projekte/kaffeekapseln/
 Cf. Der Grüne Punkt. https://www. gruener-punkt.de/de/kaffeekapseln-entsorgen
 Cf. Quarks 2019. https://www.quarks.de/umwelt/muell/darum-sind-kaffeekapseln-nicht-umweltfreundlich/
 German Environmental Aid.
 Cf. Federal Environment Agency 2016. https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/sites/default/files/medien/378/dokumente/umsoress_fallstudie_bauxit_brasilien_finale_version.pdf
 Cf. Environmental Dialog 2019. https://www.umweltdialog.de/de/wirtschaft/lieferkette/2019/Nachhaltigkeitsrisiko-Bauxit.php
 Federal Environment Agency 2016, p. 20. https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/sites/default/files/medien/378/dokumente/umsoress_fallstudie_bauxit_brasilien_finale_version.pdf
 Cf. BMZ 2021, p. 39. https://www. bmz.de/resource/blob/86342/2d2f486cf6f69568d44b500f4bf10630/rohstoffe-fuer-e-mobilitaet-data.pdf