You may have read our blog on how coffee is having an effect on the current condition of the planet, from the water and electricity usage to actually growing and harvesting the beans.
One big issue which has only come about in the past few years is actually the usage and waste of the little capsules which you put in your coffee pod machines. In the past, they have been made from plastic which we all know is not the most ideal material. Then, throw in the fact that they would be rejected if they still had traces of coffee on, and it spelt disaster.
Many brands in the past couple of years have made big changes to both the materials they use and how they deal with the aftermath of the pod usage. This actually means that coffee pods are no longer a blight on the ecosystem, and may even be better than some other methods as you know where the byproducts are going.
What Happens To Your Coffee Pods
This can depend on the brand you have picked, the materials which have been used and where exactly you live in the UK, so it can be complicated.
The main brand which produces aluminium coffee pods is Nespresso, but other brands such as CRU Kafe have also jumped on this new material.
Why? Well, with 100% Aluminium, comes 100% recyclability. Nearly 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still in use today – so it more than pays for the cost of collection, processing and remodelling. And unlike other materials such as plastic and paper, there is no decrease in quality throughout the cycle.
The aluminium also has the benefit of keeping the coffee fresh. It isn’t porous so can’t let any air or odours in, and this means that the packaging can also be limited. For example, CRU Kafe says that “everything that’s delivered to your door (from the pod to the box it came in) can be recycled”.
Your aluminium pods ending up in landfill is still a possibility despite their material. If there are traces of coffee still inside, it will be rejected, so you need to ensure every trace of coffee is gone.
The EcoPress Pod Recycler will turn your pod inside out in one push, able to hold up to 10 pods at once. It is compatible with all used aluminium pod, and is made from durable plastic so won’t break under the pressure. Then, just rinse them under water.
If your pods are recycled directly through Nespresso, they are taken to their plant in Cheshire and shredded to get rid of any extra coffee remaining (but it is still a good idea to do most of the removal yourself). Any other materials are also melted off to leave the pure 88% aluminium.
Nespresso offers its recycling scheme through their stores or collection service, and they have the capacity to recycle 100% of them, but it is a service only open to members. If you buy another brand, or can’t access this scheme, then through the local council collection service is the only way to properly give them a second life. It can be hard for these large scale recycling plant to pick up these small pods amongst the drinking cans and other products, so try to help them out as much as possible
This is still the most popular material for pod manufacturing, but it isn’t all bad news.
Most are still recyclable along with ordinary waste, as long as you strip it back to the actual plastic by removing lids and any coffee residue. It can vary from brand to brand, however, as some will also use materials such as silicone in their pods, so this makes recycling in your weekly collection a lot more difficult.
There are also questions over whether a lot of the plastic we put into our waste collections is actually recycled. Some, if rejected or not recycled locally, will head to landfill where it will sit forevermore.
Why won’t more companies switch to aluminium? Well, plastic is very cheap to produce, and some machines may also not accept other materials.
If your coffee pod is compostable at home, it is usually made from biopolymers which at the moment are very carbon-heavy to produce. This can outweigh the benefits of the end of their life.
If the user composts them than that is great. But if not, they will most definitely go to landfill and while they won’t be there for as long as plastic or other materials, it still adds to the pile. Some claim to be around for about six months, which is a vast improvement on the hundreds of years it would take for a plastic pod to break down.
But a recent study actually revealed that only around 5% of compostable pods are not thrown into the main rubbish collection, because most pod coffee drinkers are thought to be busy city-dwellers with no appropriate composting ability.
The other big downside to compostable pods is actually their porousness. None exist which have a complete oxygen barrier, so they have to be consumed soon after their roasting and packaging. This does, of course, put a strain on both the user and the pod company.
You should still go for them if you have the choice between these and plastic, but just remember that you still need to deal with them in a suitable way.
These are a good option, but the big issue is that many won’t fit most pod machines. They are often standard sizes for the most common pod machines on the market, such as Nespresso, so anybody with something different could struggle. Some manufacturers are starting to make dedicated reusable pods but this can restrict you with choice and price.
How good they are can also depend on the material used. Any plastic pods won’t last forever, so while you may get around a dozen uses out of it, they will eventually end up in waste again. But some are metal,
Buying ground coffee is also much cheaper for the user than buying pods. But, the price of buying a reusable capsule can be anywhere from £2 to £20+.
Is Pod Coffee That Bad For The Planet, Then?
Well, as you have read, pods can usually be recycled or composted. At least, if you have a big brand machine or if you are just preparing to buy a coffee pod machine, you can make a good basis of judgement based on whether you feel this is the most important thing about your new coffee machine.
A pod machine will only heat the amount of water required. It delivers a single serving/mug of coffee, so none should be wasted or left undrunk. And, Nespresso® machines have a smaller total carbon lifecycle than any other fresh brew method. Even instant falls below this, as boiling the kettle once actually makes more of a carbon footprint than making your entire jar of granules!
So, pod coffee won’t save the planet, but it actually shouldn’t get as bad a rap as it used to, especially given the vast improvements which have been made in the past few years.