Is our love for home-brewed pod coffee destroying our planet?

The reason why we love pod coffee is obvious: you can walk to the cupboard, take out a coffee pod and put it in your machine, making a delicious, cafe quality coffee in minutes. But what we may not have realised is what this convenient system has done and is doing to our environment – it’s destroying it.

If we look back to when disposable nappies were created, many of us can remember concerns over their environmental impact. Both us and our parents used cloth nappies and it was quite a shock to the environment when so many of the plastic diapers became popular. Now, according to figures released in 2009 by IbisWorld, Australians use around 5.6 million nappies per day, meaning that over 2 billion used nappies go into landfill sites in Australia each year.

This use of nappies has no doubt set us on a wasteful course where so many of us will use the disposable option versus the option that requires effort, i.e. disposable nappies vs cloth nappies or ground coffee beans, instant coffee or barista-made coffee vs pod coffee.

Since the advent of Nespresso and other similar coffee capsule brands, coffee drinkers have been buying machines in droves. This has made the coffee-capsule sector grow by 1000 per cent in five years, creating a huge problem. The aluminium or plastic pods that are used to make the coffees have a massive impact on our environment, according to Jon Dee, head of environmental group DoSomething and founder of National Recycling Week, Planet Ark and National Tree Day. ”In some ways the coffee pods are the new bottled water. It has a huge impact environmentally and at the same time rips off consumers. The cost of the product is way above what previously existed”. Would you agree?

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In an article published in The Conversation last year, authors John Rice and Nigel Martin discussed the conflicting situation Australia (and the world) is in. They said, “Pods are emblematic of a wider problem in our society, where we often say one thing and generally do another. In this case, where many of us like to speak about being “green” or living sustainably, even while sipping from a cup of coffee produced by an industry that is about as sustainable as an ageing Soviet nuclear power plant. If, as some predict, pod use doubles over the next five years, a veritable environmental tsunami is in store. While recyclable in theory, in practice pods rarely are, particularly the plastic variety beloved by the budget-conscious.

Last year, independent consumer group Choice reported that Nespresso had sold an estimated 28 billion capsules worldwide – about 28 million kilograms of aluminium, much of which may be sitting in landfill, with recycling figures not made public”. Does this shock you?

According to I Quit Sugar, Australians consume between 2.5-3 million coffee pods every day. To put this into perspective, this means we’re collectively filling an Olympic-sized swimming pool with these little plastic pouches every two weeks. And the most important thing to note is that the pods don’t break down – they can survive for 500 + years.

At a time where we should be focusing on more sustainable ways to live, should something be done to stop these companies from selling pods to us that just end up in landfill? How can we make our own changes? One way is to choose eco pods that biodegrade, however they are more expense.


Tell us what you think below.