Pods vs. Bean-to-Cup: How your coffee machine choice impacts the environment

For the last decade, the world has been undergoing a not-so-quiet revolution when it comes to the way we drink our coffee.

There’s always been plenty of options for crafting the perfect cup of joe, from the cafetiere to the stove coffee pot. But ever since George Clooney became the face of Nespresso’s coffee pods in 2006, millions of coffee-drinkers have adopted the capsule lifestyle.

Last year, a staggering 20.7 million pod-machines were sold globally and as a consequence, more than 40% of US households now own one and in the UK it’s almost one-third.

As the coffee machine quickly becomes a staple of the modern home, many of us are having to decide whether to join this pod-revolution, or to go our own path with a more traditional bean-to-cup machine.

For those of you looking to buy a coffee machine, the pod must seem like the obvious choice.

The speed and efficiency of the capsule has triumphed over the theatre and flavour of the bean-to-cup machine and there’s now no denying that pods are the premier option for espresso enthusiasts everywhere.

Coffee Pods add to landfill waste

 

But is their convenience coming at a price?

Their potential to have a seriously harmful impact on the environment has long been touted, and it’s estimated that of the 39,000 coffee pods produced every minute – 29,000 will end up on a landfill.

With the likes of Greta Thunberg starting to get us all worried about our environmental impacts, many consumers are starting to go on a guilt trip every time they buy a pack of pods.

Those who are more environmentally aware have even been ditching their beloved pod machines altogether for conscience easing alternatives.

So would joining the pod-revolution be a mistake? Or is the war on capsules not all it’s hyped up to be?

Daily Espresso Investigates…

Pods – are they really so bad?

The reason that so many Green campaigners have been fighting against the rise of coffee capsules in recent years is due to the fact that most pods are not biodegradable. This makes them a major player in the growing amount of environmental waste.

The majority of popular pod brands are made from a combination of plastic and aluminium, which makes them incredibly difficult to degrade naturally, taking somewhere between 150 and 500 years to breakdown in landfill!

The UK alone threw away roughly 260 million individual pods in 2015, and given how much global consumption has increased since then, it’s not far-fetched to think we may be heading for an environmental catastrophe.

It’s gotten so bad that even former titans of the industry have been turning their backs on the world’s pod obsession.

John Sylvan, the inventor of America’s best-selling K-cup has admitted he doesn’t even own a pod machine, claiming pods will never truly be recyclable and that he sometimes feels bad he ever invented the product.

Former Nespresso Chief Executive Jean-Paul Gaillard is even trying to put an end to the dynasty he helped build, going as far as to write a personal letter to George Clooney, warning him of the harmful impact of his promotion. He didn’t get a reply.

But despite the pod’s growing popularity, the alarm has now been raised, and coffee-drinkers have started to take notice, with protests and anti-cup campaigns on the rise.

As you’d expect, the leading pod-makers have had to re-assess their marketing strategies amid the backlash, namely by making their pods as recyclable as possible and advertising them as such.

But is that really solving the problem?

How you can stay sustainable with pods

Recycling

For those of you who already own a pod machine, all of this can make for very concerning reading.

But if the convenience and taste of the capsule is too good to give up, there are still ways you can stay sustainable depending on your brand of choice.

It’s just very, very difficult.

Almost all pods now brand themselves as recyclable, and while most are, their collection and recycling procedure is complicated, making it tough for pod-lovers to stay green.

Companies like Nespresso and L’Or Tassimo know that their products need bespoke reprocessing and so both have had to offer their own internal recycling services to the public.

This means keeping your used capsules in separate waste bags, and then returning them back to the companies recycling facilities.

Both L’Or and Nespresso offer public drop-off locations for your capsules across several different countries, with Nespresso boasting over 100,000 designated drop-offs across the globe.

And if you can’t be bothered to make the trip to a recycling point, Nespresso even offer a doorstep collection service.

So if you’re committed to staying green, picking the pod shouldn’t necessarily be a problem.

But for most capsule converts, the procedure is still too much effort, and the recycling rate for coffee pods sits at a woeful 25%.

Compostable coffee pods

In response to the landfill problem, many lesser known coffee companies have tried to come up with the solution: An entirely compostable coffee pod which can be thrown away care free.

And while many have succeeded in creating a compostable capsule, they can’t exactly be thrown away care free. One of the first to market with this environmentally friendly approach is Lavazza, who have also launched their new range of pod machines complete with biodegradable pods.

Compostable pods need to be disposed of into special compost bins or in your own backyard compost heap, as putting them in the regular trash can cause a troublesome environmental impact of its own.

If compostable pods are left to degrade in landfill sites, they can produce large amounts of the greenhouse gas methane as they degrade.

So while the growing landfill problem is solved, you’re more than likely going to be accelerating climate change instead.

If you’re a keen gardener, or a whizz with your bins it’s not going to be a problem, but if all of this sounds too fiddly, it might be time to consider other options.

How Bean-To-Cups can ease your environmental fears and more

The sheer amount of complications in staying sustainable with a pod-machine means for many of us, it’s just not worth it.

Although they’re convenience and speed is hard to beat, other machines like the bean-to-cup can be superior in a number of other ways.

With a bean-to-cup machine, you won’t have to worry about any of the same environmental issues, and can enjoy your brew absolutely guilt free.

Lauren Bloomberg of Harvard University’s Office for Sustainability, is a firm advocate of consumers making the switch from pods to bean-to-cups, claiming that enough coffee pods are consumed in a year to be wrapped around the Earth 10.5 times. That’s a horrifying statistic when you consider how many end up in landfills.

Sustainable living is now an important part of Harvard life, and the university encourage their students to come up with their own sustainability solutions and stay green on campus.

She advises students in the Harvard’s sustainability guide to switch to a bean-to-cup machine to lessen their impact on environmental waste, as well as creating opportunities to support local, sustainable roasters.

But it’s not just saving the planet where to bean-to-cups rule the roost, as they’ll also help save your pennies too.

Cost-efficient coffee

As well as helping reduce your environmental waste, bean-to-cups are also far more cost efficient than a pod machine.

If you’re in a house full of coffee lovers, simple math tells us that four people using a pod a day will spend up to around £120 a month on average in the UK.

Meanwhile, for the same price, a bean-to-cup machine could provide an office of eight people with two cups a day for a month.

Although a bean-to-cup machine has a larger up-front cost, the highly priced pod market means a bean-to-cup could save you hundreds in the long run.

References

http://bbia.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/CAF26_52_SustainablePods-1.pdf

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/coffee-pods-nespresso-recycling

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