Can you blend the convenience of coffee from a capsule with doing the right thing by the environment?
Did you know in Australia more than three million coffee capsules, or pods, are used every day? This equates to over a billion pods making it to landfill every year. If you have two coffees a day, that’s 730 little plastic pods or 73 packs of ten pods (if you needed a visual). And did you know that even if coffee pods are labelled biodegradable and/or compostable they won’t always do that at home?
Most coffee making methods will have an environmental impact of some sort, whether it be contributing to landfill, greenhouse gasses, big food miles or electricity use. That’s before you think about coffee cups, stirrers and packaging. If you love your pod machine and you know you ain’t going to part with it, then read on to understand your options better.
Single serve coffee containers, or pods, can be made from materials such as plastic, aluminium and cornstarch. Because each used pod has organic material inside it, the used coffee grounds, they are a challenge to recycle easily. Plastic pods are usually unable to be recycled.
Each aluminium pod has a silicon lining so you need to return it for it to be processed properly. Companies like Nespresso offer a pod recycling service. You can take your used pods into a drop off point (check out www.recyclingnearyou.com.au for local options) or post them back. The coffee grounds get turned into compost and the aluminium is recycled and then used again in new aluminum products. There is a consideration around the carbon footprint of buying and returning the pods for recycling, particularly from Tasmania though.
Biodegradable and/or Compostable Pods
There are currently two types of compostable material – industrial certified compostable and home certified compostable. The industrial certified compostable material is the most commonly used in the production of coffee pods. They need to be sent to an industrial composting facility to be broken down properly. Unless it’s a home composting material (which is very rare), chucking them in the bin or compost isn’t going to be much help. A Pod & Parcel representative, Jude, said, “Our compostable pods break down in 90 days and are designed for commercial compost facilities which local councils can advise of. While some of our keen home-composting customers have had success with our pods, we cannot widely recommend our pods for home compost due to the range of variables (i.e. soil composition, temperature, pH etc).” Well that’s a bit of a shock…
Some suppliers are creating ‘oxo-biodegradable’ pods – but to recycle them you need to prise off the lid (can be very tricky!) and clean out the pod. Simply buying biodegradable and sticking them in your usual bin does not make you an environmental saint.
Dominic Bury from Tasmanian Coffee Roasters said that disposing of coffee pods is a pretty confusing space. “There are plenty of manufacturers that make the compostable claim but I haven’t found one that’s totally totally recyclable and/or compostable, that’s cost effective and easy to implement. The ‘pod’ concept has taken off globally as it’s a step up from instant coffee and delivers an OK beverage without the cost or knowledge of an espresso machine. Unfortunately the increase in landfill as a result is horrific. A stainless steel refillable pod is the best option for not only the environment, but you can ensure you’re putting freshly ground coffee in the machine to your liking.”
We bought the Podstar stainless steel refillable pod and will post a quick road test video to www.facebook.com/thehobart. It’s a little fiddly but knowing there’s a few less pods hitting landfill feels good. ■