Can Coffee Pods and Capsules Be Recycled?
There are 2.5 billion paper coffee cups used every year in Britain. A staggering figure, but worsened by the fact that only one is every 400 is recycled, as the rest go to landfill.
It would take 33,000 cars to produce the equivalent carbon footprint that a year’s worth of non-recycled coffee cups leave, despite growing efforts by major chains and independent coffee outlets to be more sustainable.
Since the arrival of Starbucks in the UK in the 1990s, the habit of having coffee out instead of at home has become an increasingly normal part of the culture and many peoples’ daily lives. While this boom certainly benefits the economy, with 80% of those who go out for coffee doing so at least once a week and 16% every day, recent evidence shows caffeine lovers are spending much more than they would like.
Early this year an estimated £4billion was forecasted to be spent in UK coffee shops during 2020. That was before a global pandemic struck forcing businesses to cease entirely for nearly three months.
Grinding to a halt
Advised to stay at home and unable to grab their coffee fix over the counter, the population had no choice but to recreate the barista experience themselves.
As 80% of UK households already purchase instant coffee, this effect of COVID-19 may not have been the end of the world. However it has prompted many people to consider the alternatives for a more sophisticated way to make their own quality coffee at home.
As coffee culture has evolved and more casual drinkers turn to connoisseurs, there has been a surge in popularity of instruments like the cafetière, also known as a French press, and the glass Chemex, for brewing up richer batches of the strong stuff and making a delicate craft from it. This would only grow further during lockdown this year as individuals found themselves with time to explore the world of coffee perfecting.
Despite these more newfangled crazes, one method has remained tried and true for many households and that is the coffee machine. Now seen as a must-have accessory for any modern kitchen, coffee machine ownership has been commonplace for decades now. Their ease of use makes them accessible to all age groups and they come in so many varieties and styles that there is a huge amount of choice including affordable options.
The problem with coffee pods
Outside of adding hot water to a spoonful of instant, there’s no more convenient a way of making a single cup of coffee at home than by using a coffee pod machine. These futuristic looking appliances, made by brands like, Nespresso and Nescafe, remove any effort from whipping up a serviceable mug of coffee and other hot drinks. Simply choose your pod which determines the flavour and strength of your beverage, pop it in the machine and press go. And with so many types of pods compatible with each, it’s easy to see why in 2016 nearly a third of people in Britain already owned a pod machine.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Unfortunately it isn’t quite as simple as that, as the big question it leaves is what happens to all of these single-serve coffee pods and capsules once they’ve been used?
The sad fact is that 20 billion coffee pods used around the world every year go to landfill. Since the packaging is comprised of different materials including plastic, aluminium and foil plus coffee dregs, most pods are difficult to break down and therefore not accepted in standard recycling collections.
That said, products do differ between brands and it is even possible with some makes of pods to separate out the materials for recycling, although this goes directly against the quick-and-easy appeal of making coffee this way and is unlikely to be adopted en masse. But if you want to have the best of both worlds you can always check the packaging and see which materials you could filter into your recycling, it will still be a small but positive change anyone is capable of.
There is more pressure on the massive international producers of these pods to change how they are designed and create a more sustainable product. Some, like Lavazza, are leading the way with innovative compostable pods, while the Tassimo-compatible T-Discs can be collected by TerraCycle, a company that specialises in difficult to recycle waste. And Nespresso encourages customers to return their capsules in special bags to be reused - the catch is you need to be buying more in order to send them back.
At this moment in time there is still not enough being done by the biggest contributors to coffee pod waste to reduce it. They must lead the way by making their entire range of products eco-friendly, not just one variety of them. That way in future the majority of coffee pod users at home will be as used to the idea of recycling them as they are with any other household waste. There is a long way to go, but by choosing to research and buy only the products which won’t end up in landfill you can help make the change.
Read more about solutions for sustainable coffee here.