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Talking about Re-fè, here is our company and what we are doing to fight coffee waste.


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Coffee capsules are not recycled properly

The majority of coffee capsules are not adequately recycled after use, degrading in landfills over 500 years and having a harmful influence on the environment.
The problem is not only the vast volume of waste but also the loss of materials with potentially great economic worth. Aluminum is a material that can be recycled an infinite number of times so if disposed of appropriately, it may preserve its market value while reducing the environmental impact of its extraction.

In addition, coffee grounds are rich in nutritional properties such as antioxidants, potassium, phosphorus, nitrogen, copper, and magnesium. Therefore, they can be used for secondary purposes such as personal, home, plant, and garden care; considering it to be waste would be the actual waste.

To enable proper capsule disposal, the wrappers, and coffee grounds should be separated and not end up in unsorted waste.

To mitigate the problem, some leading companies in the industry took the first steps to offer collection points for their capsules in major city centers. However, this single initiative is not strong enough in a country like Italy, made up of small towns and rural areas where widespread coverage is needed. Here, the distribution of do-it-yourself tools and solutions for recycling makes it possible to reach even the most remote areas, lowering the environmental impact of single-use coffee capsules.

Re-fè history

Federico and Gilberto Girotto were confronted with these challenges in 2021 while dealing with the issue of recycling coffee capsules in their daily lives. The effort to manually recycle the capsules was daily: on the one hand, starting the car to reach the nearest collection station, and on the other, separating the packaging from the coffee grounds with a knife. Time-consuming actions.

The journey began with this certainty. Re-fè was founded in early 2022 as a young Italian startup to give new value to coffee waste by transforming it into a new resource following the circular economy principles of the European Green Deal and the New European Bauhaus, beginning with single-use capsules.

From there, a step-by-step project and its development process began, including research, prototyping, design, and communication.

Federico Girotto, co-founder and designer of Re-fè, began fleshing out the ideas with the help of material engineer Riccardo Sponchiado and scientist Valentina Lovat, an environmental sustainability expert. The production of limited quantities of prototypes, quickly generated public interest, allowing them to receive feedback to refine the product and welcome new members to the team, including Marco Santomauro and Lorenzo Donadel, who immediately contributed to the project.

This is how Re-fè Original was born, the first Re-fè-branded tool for separating aluminum coffee capsules from grounds, with a simple gesture. It features modularity, the use of low-impact materials, and local production with 3D printing. The biggest challenge was local production, maintaining total control, and offering transparency over the entire supply chain. We believed in it by creating collaborations with Italian realities such as FILOALFA®, for the supply of recycled bio-plastic material; Fluire Atelab, an innovation and 3D design laboratory in Venice that supports us daily in production; and SuperForma for the recycling of Re-fè waste and of products that have reached the end of their life cycle.

Re-fè Original was designed as a tool to address a fast-growing problem. We make recycling a delightful experience by engaging and educating consumers about their activities after a coffee break, as this is the quickest approach to accomplish both short- and long-term benefits. We at Re-fè feel responsible for bringing positive change.

Re-fè Original is now available for purchase at in the aluminum capsule version, but we are also working to expand compatibility to other formats and materials.

Beyond products

In addition to developing physical tools, Re-fè contributes to the creation of circular neighborhood communities and works in researching new natural materials created from coffee grounds to extend the life of all elements.
In 2022, he was involved in Legambiente Cinisello Balsamo’s “Youth of the Green Economy” educational project to give lectures on the circular economy, Agenda 2030, and green entrepreneurship to local high school students.

Re-fè is also part of the Manifattura Milano community project, an initiative of Milan City Council’s Department of Economic Development and Labor Policies, implemented by the Urban Economy, Fashion and Design Project Directorate, which aims at promoting craftsmanship, making, self-production, and urban manufacturing as strategic sectors for inclusive innovation, economic growth, and job creation.

A growing market

Coffee capsules are increasingly used. The data speak for themselves: the global market for coffee capsules is expanding significantly. The report¹  published by The Business Research Company in 2021 confirmed the growth trend of the global coffee capsules and pods market with projected growth from about $14 million in 2019 to $21 million by the end of 2025.

The growing awareness of coffee’s high antioxidant properties and chemical composition, the pace of work, the evolution of consumer tastes, and the growing popularity of instant soft drinks in offices and restaurants are driving the growth of the coffee capsule market in Europe, which is already the market leader in coffee capsules in 2019, followed by North America. This growth is also supported by the rising awareness of younger generations towards the effects of alcohol and of high sugar content drinks, which led to the search for soft and low-sweetened beverages.

Only in Italy, each person consumes approximately 4.6kg of coffee per year, with a projected increase to 5kg by 2025. Despite the importance of the espresso machines industry, the annual production of coffee pods and capsules has been increasing since 2003. In fact, as compared to more traditional ways, coffee capsules reduce the time and work required to brew a cup of coffee.

The team:

Federico Girotto – Founder and Designer
Marco Santomauro – Financial Management
Valentina Lovat – Sustainability
Riccardo Sponchiado – Materials engineer
Lorenzo Donadel – Accounting

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