Coffee Pods and the environment by Black Circle Coffee Roaster Coffee Pods and the environment by Black Circle Coffee Roaster

Coffee Pods and the environment


Every morning, tens of millions of coffee drinkers around the world pop a little capsule filled with pre-ground java inside a cleverly compatible machine. A steaming cup of coffee appears in a matter of seconds. But should it have a slightly bitter aftertaste of guilt?

Coffee is the second most traded global commodity after crude oil, and growth in coffee sales shows no signs of letting up. In 2014, pods accounted for 34% of all coffee sales – or a growth of 133,710% since 2000. It’s so popular that at last count in 2014, Nespresso had sold 28 billion pods, while North America’s popular Keurig Green Mountain produced 9.8 billion of them in 2014 alone.

That’s a lot of pods – enough to make a gigantic and not very green mountain. Or circle the world almost 26 times with just Nespresso pods. So where do they go?

Coffee comes from what is known as the “coffee belt”, comprised largely of developing countries proximate to the equator. That coffee is grown, roasted, ground and transported prior to the pod production stage. Inputs for packaging such as aluminium, paper and plastics are also manufactured and transported.

The physical pod is manufactured and transported, before being filled with roasted coffee grounds and assembled. Pods are packaged in trays, sleeves or individual serves, with additional packaging for retail use (such as a special cardboard tray for display) and for distribution (such as cartons and pallets).

The pods are then transported to warehouses, distribution centres, retailers and in some cases, to the consumer.

A coffee pod is unpackaged and popped into a compatible machine, where it is pierced to create a single serve of joe.

That pod is disposed of, along with its packaging. Depending on the pod, some components might be recyclable, compostable, or head straight into landfill.

Nespresso uses virgin aluminium for its pods, meaning they are created from new raw material which is extracted from the earth and goes through a process of refinement and electrolysis. While the company has established systems to collect and recycle that aluminium, this can involve taking used pods to your local Nespresso store, or mailing them to a recycling partner.

Keurig’s K-Cups use a special four-layer plastic, a filter and a foil top. They are partly recyclable but there’s a catch. The pod needs to be taken apart, emptied and cleaned in order to dispose of the filter, recycle the aluminium and compost the coffee grounds separately.

Many of the newer pod companies exclude mention of recycling, with some even adding more packaging through individual wrapping. One company displayed a recycling symbol on its package but on closer inspection, we found the words “recycle paper” in small print, while the pod was made of plastic and foil. Some major coffee companies such as Lavazza have introduced biodegradable pods – but the length of time and industrial composting compatibility vary hugely, so reading the detail is important.

Nespresso uses virgin aluminium for its pods, meaning they are created from new raw material which is extracted from the earth and goes through a process of refinement and electrolysis. While the company has established systems to collect and recycle that aluminium, this can involve taking used pods to your local Nespresso store, or mailing them to a recycling partner.

Keurig’s K-Cups use a special four-layer plastic, a filter and a foil top. They are partly recyclable but there’s a catch. The pod needs to be taken apart, emptied and cleaned in order to dispose of the filter, recycle the aluminium and compost the coffee grounds separately.

Many of the newer pod companies exclude mention of recycling, with some even adding more packaging through individual wrapping. One company displayed a recycling symbol on its package but on closer inspection, we found the words “recycle paper” in small print, while the pod was made of plastic and foil. Some major coffee companies such as Lavazza have introduced biodegradable pods – but the length of time and industrial composting compatibility vary hugely, so reading the detail is important.

 

The Coffee Pod Life Cycle from Black Circle Coffee - Coffee pods and the environment



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