The coffee pod phenomenon has given me a few sleepless nights lately – and I’m not talking about a caffeine rush. In the red corner, we have decent tasting, very convenient coffee, which suits me down the ground, especially when working from home. In the blue corner, we have a whole bunch of hideous statistics about the wasteful environmental nightmare we are creating by churning through pods for the sake of convenience.
Did you know?
- Nespresso alone have sold more than 27 billion coffee capsules since the ‘Clooney effect’ took hold a few years ago
- Australians fill an Olympic swimming pool with these non-recyclable pods every fortnight.
Now that I’ve made you all feel guilty, I’m also going to tell you that I’ve just bought a coffee pod machine. After tossing and turning, researching options, and being mocked by friends who can’t BELIEVE I haven’t gotten on board the pod train yet, I finally relented. But I feel guilty. I can’t claim to live a 100% ‘green’ lifestyle, but I normally try to do my bit when it comes to ethical shopping and environmental awareness. So, is it possible to use a capsule coffee machine ethically?
Coffee pods can be recycled, sometimes
Coffee pods are the fastest growing form of coffee delivery in the world but they’ve also been called ‘the most wasteful form of coffee there is’. Picture those 27 billion (at least) unrecyclable pods sitting around in landfill somewhere. It’s not pretty. All the major producers are currently scrambling to come up with biodegradable pod options and Nespresso reckons they’ll manage it by 2020. In the meantime, there are dedicated pod recycling locations for Nespresso pods – but this relies on you collecting them and taking them to an appropriate depot. Most coffee pods should be recyclable, given that they’re made of aluminium and plastic, but – in Australia – they are too small for our sorting machinery. Coffee capsules fall through the cracks in the equipment that’s catching bottles and cans as they tip through and end up in the general refuse. In short you can’t put them in your normal household recycling bin.
There ARE recyclable and refillable pods available online, though not from any of the major brands. These might be worth a try if they fit your machine. Again, there’s a catch – you will void any warranties on your coffee machine if you use non-authentic capsules, so it’s another case of weighing up pros and cons.
Lastly, you can always empty out and refill your existing pods like this: [youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cRc95s5Vsg’]
Worth a try!
Coffee should also be Fairtrade
Long before pod coffee became one of the world’s most wasteful products, coffee itself was already one of the world’s most exploitative. Between poor pay rates for farmers, extensive use of child labour and deforestation, you really don’t want to Google ‘facts about the coffee industry’ if you’re a regular imbiber with a conscience. One small way to lessen the damage is to buy Fairtrade coffee . Fairtrade certification means the farmers who produced your coffee beans were paid above the minimum rate (which is pitiful) for their hard work. It also means they’ve met a set of ethical growing standards, including acceptable working conditions and ecologically responsible farming. In Australia, the only coffee machine brand that makes its own Fairtrade capsules is Map Caffitaly. For other machines, you can buy other brands of Fairtrade capsule (like Republika pods at Coles, or Macro pods at Woolworths), but you will have the same issue with machine warranties.
Coffee pods are convenient
For better or worse, I drink a lot of coffee and my life feels nicer if it’s quick and tastes good. And I love a bit of convenience as much as the next person; and I’m willing to own up to my middle class failings.
But, I do think there are ways you can compromise, at least a little. I’ll be sticking with Fairtrade (always) and testing out the recyclable and refillable pods when I can. I’ll also be writing a few emails to capsule manufacturers to remind them that convenience and responsibility don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Would anyone like me to pass on a message to George Clooney?