Burnaby company’s green solution to coffee pods


It seems everyone at least knows someone with one of those trendiest of coffee makers, the one-cup-at-a-time types that have consumers eschewing bags of beans for boxes of plastic cups.

But while the innovation has exploded in popularity the last couple of years, creating opportunities for those in the coffee industry, it’s also created a growing problem of consumer waste.

Burnaby-based Canterbury Coffee has come up with a solution—OneCoffee, Canada’s only organic, fair-trade and 99 per cent biodegradable single-serve coffee pod.

The company, whose offices and warehouse opened in the Big Bend area in 2013, has roasting and manufacturing facilities in Richmond and in Oakville, Ont. It has 150 employees, of which about 60 work out of its Burnaby office.

It’s got a diverse customer base, from restaurants and hotels to buyers of its retail coffee products in stores.

Canterbury’s director of marketing, Victoria Gray, said the key to the popularity of machines such as those offered by Keurig is “it’s super convenient.” It brews just one cup so each person can choose the variety of coffee they prefer, such as in the case of one being a decaffeinated drinker and everyone else, not so much.

But that convenience can come at a cost to the environment.

“In 2013, the stats I’ve seen, there were over 10 billion K-Cups used,” Gray said. “It’s all garbage.”

At issue is the packaging. A regular K-Cup used in Keurig machines has ground coffee in a small hard plastic cup. The machine punches holes in the top and bottom to allow the hot water to flow through it to create a cup of coffee. Afterwards, the used cups are tossed in the trash, likely to end up in the landfill.

Canterbury has come up with OneCoffee, a version that is 99 per cent biodegradable by weight. It’s a soft pod with components such as a ring and lid made of compostable “biomass” plastic derived from plants. Instead of a plastic cup, the organic and fair-trade ground coffee inside is held in a polyester mesh filter which produces coffee closer to that of a French press, Gray said.

That mesh filter is the only part that’s made of regular plastic. The company is working on finding a greener alternative that can stand up to the heat used in the pods’ manufacturing process while allowing them to become 100 per cent biodegradable.

And while the new Keurig 2.0, that company’s latest machines, include technology that prevents the use of coffee cups and pods not licensed by the company, Canterbury is working on a solution to that too, Gray said.

The new machines include a sensor that reads the lid, only allowing those with a particular type of ink to be used. Canterbury has figured it out and later this month will start production of OneCoffee pods that will be compatible.

“For us, we think people should have choices to drink what they want to drink. We’re definitely putting something different on the market and we’re doing that because we think there’s a consumer demand for a more sustainable option.”

Being 99 per cent biodegradable means the OneCoffee pods will break down in a landfill more quickly than the regular plastic-cup variety. But Canterbury is taking it a step further, commissioning tests to prove their compostability in industrial-type processes, such as those used by Metro Vancouver’s food-scraps pickup programs.

Once it’s proven, the company plans to approach local municipalities in an effort to have them accepted in those programs. Gray added the challenge is the differences among composting facilities used by municipalities across Canada.

But Canterbury is seeking the greenest solution possible, a product that can be tossed into household green bins. “Ultimately that’s our goal, because we don’t want to see any more single-serve coffee end up in a landfill,” she said.

The hope is that their product will create enough consumer demand that other coffee companies will follow suit.

“Change takes time and the best way to create change is to prove a business opportunity.”


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