Since everyone is constantly in a hurry, and we live in a society of fast foods and convenience stores, it’s no wonder that the single-cup coffee brewing machines are found in over a quarter of the homes in North American and Western Europe.
Single-serve coffee pods can both shorten the time required to brew coffee and simplify the brewing process by taking away the need to measure out portions, flavorings, and additives from large bulk containers. Products also remain fresher by packaging individual portions separately. This limits exposing the entire supply batch to air and light.
These pods are made up of a combination of aluminum, organic material (the coffee grounds), a paper filter and plastic. Although each of these components are technically recyclable, you cannot simply put your used pod in your recycling bin. You have to break down the components before recycling.
Given the fact that people are trying to save time by using these machines, its very unlikely that they will take the time to pry apart the pods and separate the components. Instead these used pods are thrown away whole, making them non-recyclable.
Even those green households that do make time to separate out the components of their used pods may be wasting their time, as experts say the components are so small that they often fall through the sorting grids of recycling facilities.
The plastics in the pods are specifically chosen because of their ability to remain stable and durable as boiling hot water passes through them. Consequently, they don’t break down easily in landfills.
What makes this fact more staggering is that enough of these coffee pods are sold annually that, if placed end-to-end, they would circle the globe 10.5 times.
The German city of Hamburg has recognised the contribution coffee pods make in creating waste. Last month the city banned the buying of “certain polluting products or product components” with council money.
The ban includes specific terms for “equipment for hot drinks in which portion packaging is used” – specifically singling out the “Kaffeekapselmaschine”, or coffee capsule machine, which accounts for one in eight coffees sold in Germany. “These portion packs cause unnecessary resource consumption and waste generation, and often contain polluting aluminium,” the report says.
As part of a guide to green procurement, this ban of coffee pods from state-run buildings is an environmental drive to reduce waste.