Last Updated: 19. February 2020

How Coffee-Pods Can Finally Be Eco-Friendly [In 2021]

By Helen Cartwright
By Helen Cartwright

As we are becoming more aware of the harmful effects of waste, it is important to look at all the different ways we can all help protect the environment. For coffee lovers, it is almost a ritual to pop in a pod in our beloved machines and hear the whirr that makes the day start on a good note. These little pods are truly convenient and can make a quality cup of coffee in seconds.

Since many of us drink one (or more) cups of coffee a day, we need to be aware of the waste we are creating as well. There are many different coffee pods on the market today. It equips us to make a conscious decision when making a purchase. In this article, we will go over all the different types of coffee pods. This can help you decide which are the best eco-friendly coffee pods for you.


Quick Answer

  • Choose a coffee machine that fits your lifestyle best
  • Determine what type of coffee you like to drink
  • Match your coffee choice with a pod that your machine offers; different machines have different types
  • Determine if there are more eco-friendly alternatives to your pod of choice
  • Make a more conscious decision when it comes to your coffee consumption


What Are Coffee Pods?

Coffee pods are sealed packs of pre-ground coffee that deliver the perfect amount of coffee for the specified size. The grounds are sealed in a paper filter that is easily placed into a compatible coffee machine. The coffee machine punctures the pod and pushes the hot water at high pressure into your cup. This is similar to an espresso machine but is much more convenient and easy-to-use. With an espresso machine, it can be difficult to get the right amount of ground coffee or the right water temperature. With coffee pods, all the work is done for you.


Different Types of Coffee Pods

With all the different coffee machines on the market, many different types of pods are most optimal for that machine. They all have relatively the same function but perform slightly differently. The main types of coffee pods include:

  • Soft Pods
  • Hard Pods
  • Coffee Capsules
  • Compostable Pods

Soft pods
 are similar to tea bags in that the contents are contained inside a small paper package. They usually come in a flat shape that allows for the water to come in contact with more grounds. This improves the flavour of the coffee while using less waste. Since the packet does not have any structure and the grounds are untamped, the maximum flavour of the grounds may not be completely extracted. With the simple design, there are limits to the types of roasts or flavours the pod offers.

Overall this is a great option to use to get a classic cup of coffee without too much waste. Especially if you drink more than one cup per day, this is a great option for you.

Hard pods are the most popular option and also the most widely available. The capsules are usually made from plastic and contain the right amount of coffee grinds for the cup. Unlike the soft pods, the grounds in hard pods are tamped, which gives a more bold taste of espresso. They are convenient and since they are growing in popularity, there are cheaper alternatives on the market. The machine punctures the pod that is sealed with a filter and the pressured water runs through the grounds.

This is similar to brewing espresso, without all the hassle of an espresso machine. Hard pods, or more commonly known as K-Cups come in a variety of different flavours and roasts or even hot chocolate to best fit your tastes.

Coffee capsules are similar to hard pods and are often mistakenly interchanged. Contrary to popular belief, however, they are slightly different. Coffee capsules are more commonly used with Nespresso machines and work a bit differently. These capsules are usually made of aluminium and contain packed coffee grounds in different amounts. These machines work by making several punctures in the pod. The air creates a nice creamy layer of crema on top of your cup.

are coffee pods bad for the environment

Issues and Benefits of Single-Use Pods

Even though the aforementioned pods are convenient and make your mornings much easier, the waste it produces is a problem. Even though some are said to be recyclable, they are often too small to recycle. It is reported that only 6-9% of plastics get recycled. Most plants end up throwing them out and with the growing number of coffee pod users, the waste adds up.

Brands like Nespresso are starting to create recycling programs, but some are worried about the adverse effects of aluminium. Others cannot be bothered to drop off the pods at a specified recycling centre. Even though some companies are starting to become more eco-friendly, ultimately it is up to the user to recycle them and take the necessary steps.

Another misconception about recyclable pods is that they need to be cleaned before they are deemed recyclable. Many people are unaware of this fact and many recycling plants will often throw them out. It can also be too time-consuming for some to clean out their pods every time after use. Even though many companies have recycling options they are not always readily available for their customers and many need to jump through hoops just to recycle their pods.


Eco-Friendly Pods

There are several options on the market to make more environmentally conscious decisions when it comes to coffee. Many companies are starting to use more environmentally friendly materialsSome have come out with compostable pods, and others are working to make theirs completely recyclable.

The compostable pods are usually made out of materials such as sugarcane, cornstarch, and other natural materials to make a plastic-like capsule. These types of capsules are biodegradable and can break down over time. The two types of fully compostable pods are:

  • Industrial pods
  • Home pods

Industrial pods mean that the pods need to be taken to a special composting plant. At these industrial plants, conditions mimic the perfect temperature and environment for a mass number of pods to break down quicker. While this sounds great in theory, this option may not be available en masse. It is also more time consuming and requires more effort to find and drop them off if needed.

Pods that are compostable at home are a better option since they can be thrown into your backyard garden compost. That said, while this option is great for those that do participate in composting, for many, it just ends up in the trash again and sent off to the landfill.

Even though some pods are fully biodegradable, they still take a considerable amount of time to break down. They can still be damaging to the environment.

Another more eco-friendly option for coffee pods is reusable pods. We found that this alternative saves money in the long run as well. Coffee pods can be expensive and add up over time. Reusable pods come in different sizes to fit the different types of machines. The pods are shaped similar to the single-use ones however they are made from sustainable materials such as stainless steel.

With this option, you do need to measure and grind your coffee, but this is great for those that like to customize their coffee. All you need to do is wash the pod and filter after use and you can keep reusing it.


Best Practices

With all the different options on the market and all the various alternatives, you are sure to find one that works best for your lifestyle. Some considerations to think about before making your decision include:

  • Type of coffee
  • Type of machine
  • Type of pod
  • Recycling Location
  • Alternative Pods
  • Different coffee-making methods

Coffee pods and beans

Choosing Your Coffee Type

To become more eco-friendly in terms of your coffee drinking you first need to determine what type of coffee you want to drink. Some pods are better for espresso and others make a classic cup of coffee. This way there is no need for you to stop at Costa Coffee every morning and grab a plastic cup just to throw it away an hour later.


Finding the Right Machine for You

By determining the type of coffee you want you can also determine what machine works best for you. The Nespresso is great for more espresso-like drinks; however, the pods can be more difficult to find and are also more expensive. Then depending on the type of machine, you can decide which type of pod will work best for you.


Find a Recycling Location Near You

If you have a recycling centre near you a single-use pod can still be easily recycled. For others that compost regularly, the compostable option may be better for you. If you use your machine regularly look into investing in a reusable pod that you can refill and wash every day. If all these options take away the convenience of a coffee pod for you, there are many different ways to make good coffee without a fancy machine. Some alternatives include manual coffee machines such as drip coffee makers, Moka pots, and cafetieres.


Different Approaches

Here we go over all the pros and cons of each approach so you can determine which one is best for you.

Single-use Soft PodsSingle-use K-cupsSingle-use Coffee CapsulesBiodegradable CapsulesReusable Pods


  • Made from less material
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Greater aroma since no plastic
  • Becoming more widely available


  • Convenient
  • Works with several different machines
  • Affordable pods


  • Able to be recycled by the company
  • Espresso-like coffee
  • Quick and easy to use


  • More eco-friendly
  • Compatible with many machines


  • Most eco-friendly
  • Easy to wash
  • Able to use favourite coffee
  • Saves money in the long run


  • More coffee-like taste
  • Less compatible with coffee machines
  • Lacks strong espresso-like taste


  • Plastic decreases coffee aroma
  • Need to be cleaned before recycling
  • Some are large and bulky


  • Can be expensive
  • Some are hard to recycle
  • Need to be cleaned before recycling


  • Can be hard to find composting centres
  • Takes a while to decompose
  • Not as easy to find


  • Needs to be washed
  • Need to measure and tamp coffee grinds
  • More upfront cost

If all these options are still not to your liking, other tools allow you to make your coffee easily without producing too much waste. Some of our favourite options include:

  • Moka Pot – This is a traditional Italian method that makes a cup of strong coffee in minutes. The coffee is brewed in a special pot that can be heated up easily on the stove. The head creates pressure and the hot water passes through the grounds in the middle of the pot. With this simple tool, you can make espresso-style coffee for yourself or more than one person at a time. Check out this Moka pot buyer’s guide to help you decide which pot is best for you.
  • French Press- This is an easy and consistent method that extracts a lot of flavour. The typical brewing time is anywhere from 3-5 minutes. The coffee grounds are soaked and steeped in the hot water, then strained with the special press. This is an inexpensive way to make quality coffee at home with little waste.
  • Pour-Over- This is the oldest method and still works to this day. The grounds sit over a filter as the hot water is dripped over the top. This method is super quick and you can have your fresh cup of coffee in a matter of minutes. Today there are different types of cones and tools to upgrade this simple method.
  • Cold Brew- Cold Brew is a method that grew to popularity with the special method of brewing with cold water. This extracts a unique flavour and for some, it becomes a favourite. Here you can learn about the 7 best coffees for cold brew. Unlike the name suggests, cold brew can be drunk cold or hot.


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