Own a coffee pod machine or planning to buy one?
Do you own a coffee pod machine? Have you been reading reports and worrying about the environmental issues of the used coffee pods? Have your friends been telling you that coffee pods do a lot of harm to the planet?
Were you planning to buy a coffee pod machine but been putting out the decision alarmed by reports that coffee pods don’t recycle?
Reading this and thinking that’s exactly how I feel? Then you should read on to see what we discovered from doing our research around the sustainability issues of coffee pods.
The Eyewatering Number of Used Coffee Pods
If you are based in the US, then you probably have a Keurig K-cup machine. In 2015, over 9 billion K-cup coffee pods were sold.
If you are in Europe and Nespresso pods are your thing, the only number that’s available is 27 billion Nespresso pods sold between 1986 & 2012. In the UK for instance, the expectation is that the coffee pods will overtake the sales of teabags by 2018. This is really saying something for a country that’s been known for its tea drinking habits.
Here’s a picture of just how many coffee pods have been used and generated in last thirty years. If we lined up all the coffee pods (Keurig, Nespresso and others), there would be enough to go to the Moon and come back, twice!
Why Environmentalists Hate Coffee Pods
Coffee Pods can’t be recycled
Do you know that just the small size of the coffee pods causes a problem from a recycling standpoint? It’s too small for machines to work with at recycling centres. They need specialist recycling points.
But there are other problems, the plastic used in the K-cups wasn’t recyclable plastic. That’s changing and they expect that by 2018, half of the K-cups will be at least recyclable and by 2020 all of K-cups.
But the concern for sustainability champions is of the business model of companies that generates such a vast amount of plastic that isn’t bio-degradable. For them, recycling is what you look at as a second option. Recycling is trying to reduce waste but isn’t a sustainable answer.
Nespresso’s global tie up with Terracycle
Nestle, the company behind Nespresso is proud of its sustainability record on the sourcing of coffee itself. Nespresso on realising the problem of the used coffee pods, tied up with Terracycle, a global recycling firm for disposal. Terracycle smelts the aluminium, composts the coffee and the plastics gets extruded or converted into pellets to be used in other plastic products.
Recycling costs a lot
Nespresso pods can be recycled but have their own problems. In the words of a former Nespresso chief executive. "Aluminium capsules have to be shredded, the coffee has to be taken away with water, the varnish to be burnt and aluminium has to be re-smelted again. You need a lot of transportation and energy."
Landfills are an expensive commodity
If coffee pods aren’t recycled and go to landfills, there is another problem. Aluminium and plastic that go to landfills don’t break down for over five hundred years. For European countries and the UK because of the lack of land, landfills are an expensive proposition.
Coffee Pods are an Insignificant Sustainability Problem
Champions of the coffee pods rightly point out some other equally valid points.
Too small to cause a problem
The small size of the coffee pods (1.2g for an empty Nespresso pod, 2.5g for a Nespresso compatible pod or slightly more for a Keurig pod) can’t cause a waste management problem because converting this into tons of waste, all the coffee pods would only be 1% of US or Germany waste.
Coffee pod machines are efficient
Coffee pod machines are more electrically efficient going into standby when not in use. They use just the right amount of coffee and water to create one cup. You therefore use less electricity and coffee powder than an electric filter coffee maker which is kept hot for hours.
There is no doubt that of the hundreds of thousands of products in a grocery or supermarket store that generate waste, coffee pods punch above their weight in terms of waste they create because of the volume and non-degradable materials used. But this is still a small percentage of the total waste generated by a household.
But as a consumer if sustainability is a priority for you, then the coffee pod machine is not for you. If you want to know the best coffee option from the standpoint of the planet, it’s actually instant coffee! But if instant coffee doesn’t give you the coffee experience then, you’ll probably want to stick to a manual coffee maker and use a manual grinder.
If sustainability matters to you but you want to enjoy the convenience of easy coffee, we recommend that you ensure you recycle your coffee pods using your brand’s recommended options.
But if you take a car to go many miles out to recycle or get a courier to come and pick up your used pods, then think again. When looking at sustainability, transportation and energy costs should also be factored in.
The big picture of the overall sustainability of your household then matters more than your used coffee pods.
Our weigh in is that yes, recycling of coffee pods is something we as responsible coffee pod machine owners should do and be able to do easily without having to make long trips.
But it’s the companies who manufacture these pods that have the greater responsibility. They must create more environment friendly pods in the first place and ensure recycling happens while they try and get to biodegradable pods.
In summary, enjoy your coffee pod machine, but please do recycle responsibly.