Do you use coffee capsules to get your caffeine fix in a morning? Many people do. Workplace consumption of capsule coffee is now at an all time high, and 30% of us Brits reportedly have a coffee pod machine at home. But what happens to that capsule after you use it? While coffee capsules are undeniably convenient, most of us don’t dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way. So how can you recycle your capsule waste? Do you use sustainable coffee pods already? Would you consider alternatives, and swap for more sustainable coffee pods?
At Pollards, our business focuses on freshly ground coffee, and roasting coffee beans to create wonderful depth and taste. Coffee capsules on the other hand, much like instant coffee, are made for mass convenience. The products are at different ends of the market but are nevertheless the same type of product. These coffees have a longer shelf life than fresh coffee, so we can see the attraction for the occasional coffee drinker. To help bring awareness and influence a change we have put this blog together to help you find sustainable coffee pods, let us know what you think.
Measuring sustainability, coffee generally has a bad name. The beans are only grown in certain areas globally, so a lot of transport is required before the coffee hits our shores. Yet it still proves popular. Coffee is the second most traded good in the world, after oil. We love the stuff, and for good reason.
Recently, coffee has featured in the news regarding how ‘green’ the coffee industry is and what we can do to change this. The research and change demanded in the coffee industry has been spread over many areas. Everything from imports to the latte levy (a proposed taxation on single use coffee cups) is being scrutinised. All in the effort to increase awareness and accountability. A new one that caught our attention has been the clamp down on packaging with coffee capsules.
The issues with recycling coffee pods
The appeal for a portion sized capsule is obvious. It means that customers can keep a stock of coffee available at home or for the office. However the average capsule contains around 4-6 g of coffee wrapped up with 2-3 g of packaging. So when it comes to recycling and waste, capsules rate quite high.
Furthermore, trying to recycle used coffee capsules is not easy. This is because the two materials that the majority of coffee capsules are made from, plastic and aluminium, must be separated. This is a process which cannot be done in standard recycling plants here in the UK. The aluminium used for coffee capsules needs to be primary sourced metal, so recycled aluminium is never used for new capsules. It is an open looped recycling process.
Most coffee pods need specialist recycling schemes – leading capsule coffee company Nespresso estimate that 21% of their pods are currently being recycled (Jan 2018), with the remainder going to landfill or being incinerated. This market still creates a lot of waste, and it takes years for the byproduct to degrade. Aluminium coffee pods are estimated to take between 150 to 500 years to decompose naturally. So your morning coffee may have a big impact on the world in which we live.
The demand for convenience products has overshadowed their environmental impact for many years. But change is happening slowly but in some important areas. For example, in 2016, the city of Hamburg decided to ban coffee pods in all state run buildings, in an attempt to minimise environmental waste.
There are definitely options available if you want to do your bit for the planet. Consider applying some of the following:
- Switching to fresh coffee, filter or even instant coffee will create less direct waste.
- Reuse your coffee grounds – this can be done in many ways, as we have discussed in previous blogs. Grounds can be used around the home, or even for beauty hacks.
- Buy locally – buying direct from the roaster saves on transport and additional packaging associated with supermarket shopping. Many roasters including ourselves have shops where you can purchase direct.
- Don’t pour more than you need – sounds simple, but making a fresh pot for the office ‘just incase’ is wasteful. Make what you need and no extra.
- reusable filters – single use filters are the way of the past. Upgrade.
- Cut back on packaging waste – most coffee shops love it when you bring your own reusable container for your beans and are happy to save on needless packaging.
- Buy a reusable coffee cup, or simply stay in the coffee shop and have a proper cup.
- Find and use more sustainable coffee pods – we can tell you more.
Or if you’re committed to your new capsule machine, there are alternatives that don’t require ditching the coffee pods altogether. Being mindful of which capsules you buy and how you dispose of them, is a great way to reduce the waste footprint of the UK’s coffee pod obsession.
Are there any sustainable coffee pods on the market?
Because change is being encouraged in this market, it is hard to keep up with who is sustainable and who isn’t right now. 2018 will be a huge year for the green initiative. Many changes are on the horizon as brands fight over various ideas, schemes and facilities which provide the consumers the best option.
To help you with your coffee pod choice we have a list of the popular brands and what their green agenda is:
Dolce Gusto: Currently there is official recycling strategy for Dolce Gusto coffee pods. According to Nestle, a solution is due to be announced later this year. Although these are currently the most popular, they aren’t the most sustainable coffee pods.
Lidl’s own brand coffee capsules are not recyclable, as things stand now. They hope to change this soon.
M&S are looking to work towards more sustainable pods as they can not recycle their own brand capsules. They are due to release a range of recyclable coffee pods by 2019, according to an M&S spokesperson.
Lavazza: Unfortunately, there is no official recycling strategy for Lavazza coffee pods either. But the company has announced a release this spring, of a compostable pod range following a five-year research project. Hopefully the new version will be much more sustainable coffee pods.
Tassimo: Recycling company Terracycle are running a designated recycling scheme for Tassimo coffee pods only. Pods are collected by volunteers from 150 collection points around the UK and sent to TerraCycle, raising money for charity in the process. Previously, they have run a similar scheme for Dolce Gusto.
Nespresso: If you are one of their members, then you can recycle your capsules by returning them to Nespresso boutiques, if you live in London. Alternatively, you can book a home collection online or send them to Nespresso via CollectPlus or Doddle couriers.
Starbucks: You can collect a recycling bag from your local UK Starbucks branch and return your used capsules to be recycled. With this scheme you can return any Nespresso-compatible capsules, not just Starbucks’ own brand. The leftover coffee grounds, which make up 95% of the weight of a used capsule, are recycled by Starbucks to produce renewable energy and the capsule is then broken apart so that the plastic casing and aluminium foil inside is separated.
Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference and Dualit’s NX Coffee Pods range are recyclable through your local council’s recycling system! This is because they are made out of polypropylene, a recyclable plastic. Dualit also have a range of compostable pods that break down within 90 days. These can go in designated food waste bins where composting is available.
Smaller-scale coffee brands like Percol and Novel L’Espresso also sell compostable pods that are compatible with the popular Nespresso machines. Percol’s range is made from plant-based plastic, with ingredients like sugar beet and sugarcane; Novel L’Espresso’s is made using bio-based materials. The Ethical Coffee Company also make 100% biodegradable capsules from plant-based fibres that are compatible with Nespresso machines, and fully compostable. So if you need your capsules, these are a good choice for sustainable coffee pods.
With these last options, just remember to separate what you can in the recycling process to ensure it doesn’t get contaminated!
The future of coffee waste
Ground coffee and single-use coffee capsules are becoming increasingly popular in the UK according to the British Coffee Association so we must start doing what we can to decrease our bad coffee habits, and their affects on the planet. The UK government are currently addressing various proposals to introduce legal measures regarding reducing coffee waste in this country. As consumers, we all have an obligation to reduce waste. Small changes to our habits can make a huge difference over the years, without needing to quit the coffee.
Let us know how you reduce your coffee waste at home.