Are coffee pods really that convenient?

In today’s world, we tend to emphasize convenience more than anything else. We seem to always be looking for the quick fix, particularly when it comes to our coffee! This has lead to the use of coffee pods being one of the most wasteful daily practices.

This ‘little convenience’ is giving the environment a ‘giant headache’. Millions of pods are now ending up in landfill each year and there is growing concern about the environmental impacts of these coffee favourites.

It’s estimated Australians are using at least 3 million coffee pods per day, with most of the tiny aluminium pods ending up in landfill.

“3 million coffee pods a day equates to around an Olympic sized swimming pool every fortnight ending up in land fill,” Michael Scott, managing director of rival ‘The EcoCaffe Company’ said.

Pods are made from plastic and aluminium. Aluminium is 100% recyclable and recycling it saves 95% of the energy required to produce aluminium from raw materials. It is also the most valuable material to recycle.

In landfill however aluminium capsules can take between 150 and 200 years to break down, while plastic capsules can take more than 500 years to breakdown.

So it really makes no sense that we are sending 3 million coffee pods to landfill everyday!

But can’t they be recycled?

A common question we are asked about is if coffee pods can be recycled.  Nespresso encourages their customers to recycle their pods by either a) returning them to their stores, or b) dropping them off at one of  their collection points. However, is this really a convenient solution?

Recycling options:

If you are using the Nespresso brand aluminium pods they can be taken back to a Newspresso store or recycling location. For more details on locations click here: https://www.nespresso.com/…/how-to-recycle-coffee-capsules.

If you are dedicated, you can recycle aluminium pods by removing the plastic lid/top (place this in the general waste bin), then scrape out the coffee grinds (which can go into your compost or green bin).  Give the alumimium pod a quick rinse to remove remaining coffee, then stack and squeeze the empty pods together before placing them into your recycle bin.

What about biodegradable pods?

Biodegradable plastic is not usually a good thing as it usually means that it is plastic, infused with an additive to make it break down into smaller peices of plastic. This is actually worse if they find their way into the natural environment. These pods are not recyclable so still need to be placed in the general waste bin.

Some coffee pods claim to be biodegradable and compostable, meaning that they are made from materials like cornstarch and are not plastic. This is a better alternative, however they need to have the Australian Standard certification for compostability AS4736 to be accepted in the green bin for composting.

What’s the BEST option?

In terms of preventing waste, the best option is to avoid using disposable pods – there are some refillable versions available, or avoid them all together and use an espresso machine, plunger or percolator instead. There are lots of options available from fully automated to more basic models depending on your preference and budget.

Once used, the coffee from your espresso machine, plunger or percolator can be emptied into your home compost or in your green lidded food and garden organics bin.

Which is more expensive?

Espresso pods are a lot more expensive than a bag of either pre-ground  or whole beans that you can freshly grind yourself. You will pay for the convenience. While it may be worth it if you’re particularly busy or not particularly skilled with an espresso maker, you are definitely going to be paying more.

A pod contains 7.5gm of coffee. If you like strong coffee or want a mug of coffee, this is not usually enough, so you may need to use two pods . Two pods of Nespresso at 75c each is $1.50 for a cup. Fresh roasted beans will cost you around $30 per kilo on average, you can spend more but you don’t need to.  Using ground coffee in an espresso machine usually uses around 18 grams for a cup which works out to 55c per cup. You could perhaps add 10-15% for wastage/spillage on the fresh beans so call it 65c per cup worse case scenario.