Coffee pods are quick and convenient, but can they be disposed of responsibly?
The coffee pod has gone from one evolution to another, and with each evolution comes innovation. The quality of coffee in coffee pods is quite encouraging, with a wide range available from traditional to more adventurous brews. The question we've been asking is - what about seasonal specialty coffee in a coffee pod?
What are coffee pods made from and why should they be recycled?
Even though they save time, there is one significant downside to these convenient little pods - they aren't always biodegradable or easy to recycle! Whilst there has been innovation on the product itself, there has also been innovation on how to tackle the waste caused by pods too.
We need to be mindful of the impact that we are each having on our environment, and with the number of coffee pods consumed increasing year after year, the time to act is now.
There is a huge amount of information out there. Often this can be conflicting, which doesn't help us to do the right thing. By understanding more, and by disposing of these coffee pods correctly, we can ensure that our coffee can be enjoyed knowing that we are not harming the planet. Read on and learn how to reduce waste, still enjoying proper tasty coffee every morning!
Recycling is often made difficult by pods made from multiple materials, which are difficult to separate. The good news is that (like our coffee bags) mono-material options are available now, making recycling much easier.
Check out our Nespresso® Compatible Specialty Coffee Pods
With so many different types available, how do you know what to do with used coffee pods?
Plastic Coffee PodsThere are two main types of plastic pods - single-use and reusable. The reusable plastic pods allow you to add your own ground coffee, pop down a lid and brew. While they are a good option in that they don't add to plastic waste in landfill, we don't think they make the best brew.
From a brewing point of view, coffee pods are hard to get right. An average cup of coffee might use 15-20g of ground beans, but a pod holds around 5g on average. This means you need a very very fine grind to extract enough to make a smooth cup of coffee - the sort of grind you can only achieve on a commerical grinder. Underextracted coffee is very sour!
Single-use plastic coffee pods are hard to recycle. Because they're full of wet, used coffee, it's not possible to put them in your home recycling unless you dismantle and thoroughly clean them. Even if you were to do this, it's not guaranteed that your council would recycle them. We reached out to our local council, who said that pods (even clean ones) would not be recycled due to their size.
There are plenty of schemes available to recycle plastic pods like Podback, who repurpose the ground coffee into soil improvers and as an energy source. They ask for you to collect used coffee pods in a resealable bag, place them inside an included recycling box and drop it off at your nearest drop-off location or send it to their recycling plant.
Aluminium coffee pods are one of the most common materials out there at the moment, and possibly one of the best for a few different reasons.
There are huge resources of aluminium, and it's relatively easy to recycle. They also remove the risk of plastic leeching. With our new understanding of the dangers of micro-plastics, this is a particularly important benefit of aluminium.
Schemes like Podback also accept aluminium pods, and manufactuers such as Dualit have gadgets available to remove the used coffee grounds from your pods, making them home recyclable.
Make sure you do your research if you have 'compostable' pods...
Industrially Compostable PodsThe next big development in coffee pod materials was to make them compostable. Given that the coffee inside is packed full of nitrogen (and is therefore great for the garden), it would seem that this is the ideal solution for the climate-conscious coffee connoisseur.
However, the reality is that many compostable pods need to be handled in an industrial composting facility - they simply won't break down in your home compost. Industrial composting is done in a number of ways, from open-air 'windrow composting', to 'in-vessel composting', where air flow and temperature are controlled, allowing harder-to-compost materials to break down.
Of course it's positive to see a move away from plastics, but it's not the ideal solution. We would recommend checking to see whether your pod of choice needs this treatment.
Home Compostable Coffee PodsOf course, the holy grail would be a pod that you can pop in your own compost, food waste, or even in your plant pots! Something like this would allow coffee roasters to share their coffee with a wide range of people, with the least impact on the environment. With responsibly sourced, specialty coffee inside those pods, it would be a way to make specialty coffee much more accessible, and a part of people's day-to-day lives.
We have wanted to create our own specialty coffee pods for some time now, but we wanted to be sure we would be doing it right. We're very excited to have found a solution - a pod which is truly home compostable; one that will break down around six months after you add it to your compost. They are Nespresso compatible too, so you can use them in your existing machine, or run them through the Opal One machine, designed for specialty coffee.
The Opal One, designed for specialty coffee pods like ours.
Specialty coffee shouldn't be an exclusive club. For transparent coffee to be the norm, it needs to reach way more people than it does right now. We believe in meeting people where they are at in their coffee journey - whether that's a die-hard coffee nerd with all the latest gear, or someone just dipping their toe into the world of specialty coffee.
With that in mind, pods are the ideal way to make our coffees accessible and approachable - you can find them here.