• © Martha Wellner
  • Milk without the packaging

    It is not always easy to be an ecological consumer. You want to satisfy your coffee craving as environmentally responsibly as possible, so out you head, chic, reusable bamboo cup in hand to limit your carbon footprint, only to find your best intentions thwarted by the smallest of details. By a tiny, foil-lidded plastic container filled with condensed milk to be exact. The petite package is a hygienic option for storing creamer and is easy to transport, but also creates unnecessary and – given the limited amount it holds – an unnecessary amount of plastic waste.

    If researchers from the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg have their way, the creamer packet’s reign over the coffee bars of today will soon be over. They have developed a milk capsule that dissolves in hot liquid. Imagine a sweet sugar crust with a creamy creamer centre.

    Production is as simple as the very concept itself. A sugar-milk solution is poured into moulds to cool. As the temperature drops, the excess sugar moves towards the edge, where it crystalizes, creating a sugar coating around the remaining liquid creamer. And like regular sugar, the capsule dissolves easily in a hot drink.

    The capsules can be made in different shapes and researchers say they keep at room temperature for at least three weeks. To date sweet and less sweet variations have been developed and tested, and an unsweetened one is in the works.

    A happy accident
    The idea for the milk capsules was the accidental by-product of another line of work entirely. Researchers had been looking into process of crystallization for the industrial production of medicines. Now instead of helping the sick, their new invention is helping the environment. And all the coffee junkies looking for their next caffeine fix on in a plane or train on the way to work. The new sugar cube is likely to prevent some unhappy accidents too. We’ve all been a victim – you open the tiny plastic container so very carefully, only to be greeted by a spray of milk in your face or all over your outfit.

    We’ll all need to exercise a bit of patience though before we can enjoy the creamy goodness of milky coffee without the plastic rubbish. The capsules from Halle are not yet commercially available. There is still some testing to be done to ensure they conform to food safety standards and to see whether they can be inexpensively mass produced. 

    This article was first published in German language enorm magazine. You can find the original text written by  here.

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