The Need: 15 billion polypropylene #5 coffee pods are produced annually with approximately 90% ending up in landfills or being burned. Polypropylene #5 has limited recycling availability and even less when it is 2 inches or smaller. No easily accessible database exists to find out where they can be recycled. In addition, only the pod has the potential to be recycled with the lid, filter and coffee grounds going to landfill. These components have to be cleaned and separated from the pod wasting water.
The Solution: Smile Compostable Solutions developed a plant-based coffee pod, where the entire pod (lid, inks, filter coffee and pod) could be conveniently composted as one piece. In addition, on all packaging multiple websites were identified where pods could be composted. No water is needed or waste created with this pod. Plus, the pod is carbon neutral and has a similar shelf life to the current coffee pods on the market.
Which of the Pact’s 4 Targets does your work help achieve?
TARGET 1: Polypropylene plastic packaging, 2 inches or less with food contact that has limited recycling availability
TARGET 2: 100% of plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. Smile’s pods use 0% petroleum plastic and is 99% certified commercially compostable.
TARGET 3: Undertake ambitious actions to effectively recycle or compost 50% of plastic packaging by 2025. Smile uses no plastic and our private label pods allow other coffee brands to convert to be compostable before 2025.
TARGET 4: By 2025, the average recycled content or responsibly sourced bio-based content in plastic packaging will be 30%. Currently Smile’s pods are 62% bio-based (the other 38% is a compostable liquid oxygen barrier added to the plant base during molding). By 2025 we believe we will be 85%-99%+ bio-based. We use no petroleum plastic or PLA in our pod.
What makes it particularly smart or circular? Smile’s pods eliminate the need for hard to recycle polypropylene in small size food packaging. Instead, we use a plant-based, fully compostable material for all components that composts and returns to nutrients in the soil. Materials used can be regrown and are sustainable.
Results, Benefits, and Outcomes to Date: The technology has been successfully used in Europe for over 5 years among leading private label retailers for coffee brewers compatible with Nespresso Original. It is now available in North America in a format compatible with Keurig brewing systems. Plastic reduction and carbon reduction can be measured with each pod sold and used as replacement for plastic. We have currently sold over 10 million pods, on our way to 100 million next year and billions in the next 5 years. Customers are skeptical and cautious on new technologies and need a major player to lead first before they commit.
How are you communicating your success? Smile communicates with emails, social media, websites, press releases and letting consumers know on all customer packaging that it is a Smile licensed compostable pod system so they know it can be trusted. In addition, we get involved with industry organizations and tradeshows. We also announce new customers to the press which builds confidence and momentum in the marketplace.
What’s Next? Smile continues to champion the composting where it can add value. We continue to seek out and add customers weekly across retail, branded, food service and hospitality channels. The more eyes that see the convenience and quality of the pod system, the more conversion we get. In a 15 billion annual pod category we have lots of work left to do.
Roadblocks & Lessons Learned: Previous false facts and greenwashing by companies has tainted composting making education and third-party certifications essential to getting customers. Making sure that our communication is consistent and meets regulatory guidelines while legally challenging abusers is a priority.
Core Team, Partners, & Participants: Smile’s start-up team of R&D, engineering, legal, technical and marketing professionals worked together to prove that a convenient, sustainable, and economically viable pod system could be done where others failed.
Time Frame: This project took two and half years to prove out in a Keurig compatible format and get all the right certifications.
Budget: $5 Million of financing from co-founders, friends, family, angel investors and former Keurig corporate officers
Quote: “This is a classic David and Goliath story where entrepreneurs were able to solve the # 3 single use plastic pollution problem in North America, by searching the globe for solutions and like-minded team members that would make all components compost together, even with a small budget, short time frame and everybody saying it can’t be done. It was/is motivating even at its hardest times knowing the end result is better for the planet.” – Michael A. Sands, Co-Founder
Company/Organization Information: Founded in 2019 as a Delaware Public “B” Benefit Corporation dedicated to sustainability