Why changing to biodegradable coffee pods isn’t the answer.

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THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS; PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.

Let’s start our day with a nice cup of guilt-free coffee.

According to the National Coffee Association, single-serve coffee pods currently make up 37% of all coffee consumed. Can biodegradable coffee pods be the answer? Please find out how they compare to loose coffee and what health issues biodegradable coffee pods can cause.

The invention of the single-use coffee pods, also known as the K-cup by Keurig, made coffee lovers worldwide celebrate while environmentalists cringe. Even though they might seem small and innocent at first, coffee pods have added to the single-use plastic crisis.

In the last decade, coffee pod machines have taken over. We have noticed this, especially since we have been on the road. Almost every hotel has a Keurig or Nespresso pod machine. Even most of the Airbnb places we go to have one of the pod machines.

Coffee pods are convenient.

I get it. The alarm goes off, and you roll out of bed, make yourself a cup of coffee.

biodegradable coffee pods
biodegradable coffee pods
biodegradable coffee pods

Press a button and pop the little coffee pod into the machine. Followed by the humming sound of the water pushing, and a couple of seconds later, you have your brew ready to go.

Now, I have to be straight up with you here. I am a coffee addict. I have been using a percolator for a long time, and I love the coffee these little things make. Sure they require a little more work than just placing a pod in a machine and pressing a button. (There is actually a little bit of skill needed if you want your coffee to taste amazing.) But it’s not that hard, trust me, if I can do it, you can too.

Getting a machine that uses plastic pods known to leach chemicals and uses old coffee (who knows how long the pod has been in there) wasn’t going to work for me.

I am not a big fan of long blacks or drip coffee. I like my cappuccino or espresso. The good old percolator will be my weapon of choice, especially since we are currently traveling.

biodegradable coffee pods
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Why changing your coffee drinking habits can save the world?

The reason why I am talking about coffee pods and why biodegradable coffee pods aren’t the answer is simple:

  1. 75 million homes use K-pods every day
  2. 112,252 pods are made every minute worldwide ~ newstalk
  3. The rest gets lost and potentially ends up in the ocean
  4. Over 56 billion coffee capsules went to landfill in 2018 ~ newstalk

That is a heck of a lot of waste that we can potentially prevent. Now, many companies started designing biodegradable coffee pods and reusable pods, which are a good alternative if you don’t want to throw out your machine, or are they?

Like the compostable K-cup and the biodegradable SFbay cup, or the Gourmesso, they all claim to be 100% compostable. And most consumers will see that and don’t look any further. “If the company says they are compostable, then it has to be right.”

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Yes and No!

This is what I found on Groumesso’s page:

** Glorybrew pods are certified compostable in Industrial Facilities only. Check locally, as these do not exist in many communities. The pods are not certified/suitable for backyard composting, as no current certification exists. Not certified for backyard composting. ~gourmesso.com

This is what SF bay is saying. Although they openly say that the family business is working hard to get them home compostable by 2020, which is great.

Commercially compostable means that our OneCups must be brought to a commercial composting site for disposal. ~ SFbay

This is what you will find for any of the pods that claim to be 100% compostable. They are only if you have access to an industrial composting facility that can deal with them. So, in other words, it’s greenwashing and designed to make the consumer feel better.

9.8 billion are thrown out each day according to a report from 2013. ~ sustainability.ucsf.edu

Let’s see how they hold up when we compare coffee pods’ costs to lose coffee beans?

The cost of a coffee pod vs. the cost of coffee beans

BrandPodsCostGrams
McCafe48 Pods$30N/A
Nescafe12 Pods$ 8-119g
Keurig40 Pods$244.5g
Tim Horton30 Pods$20N/A

Compare that to 1 kg of artisan coffee beans for $36

I mean, I am not good at math, but that is a no-brainer, even to me.

What about biodegradable coffee pods?

Coffee cups are generally made from #5 polypropylene, with a combination of aluminum, paper filter, and organic material( coffee ground). While generally speaking, all these materials can be recycled if they have been separated.

Unless each coffee capsule gets separated and washed, they most likely end up in landfills or find their way in the incinerator, where they get burned for electricity. Through wind and bad waste management, they also add to ocean pollution.

You know the story here.

biodegradable coffee pods

While companies like recycleacup.com try to tackle the problem with new inventions, using loose coffee grounds is still the better solution, in my opinion.

Companies like PurePod, even have the audacity to claim that single-use coffee pods are more sustainable than percolators and drip coffee. The article in FastCompany puts it nicely. They are saying that buying a Hummer is a great way to save fuel compared to your old 1950s road-going ship.

So yes, most cups can be recycled if separated – and cleaned – and then get sent to a recycling plant – and shreds it down to pallets – and turns it into the new plastic material. But do you think that is actually what’s happening?

We know that only 9% of rubbish gets recycled worldwide.

So instead of hoping for the K-cup or the other coffee pods to be wish-cycled, there are some additional steps we can take.

Companies like Keurig and Nestle are well aware of the ongoing pollution they create with the coffee pods. So one solution is compostable coffee pods.

Let’s look at the SFbay compostable pod: At first glance, it looks pretty good.

  • It is made from a plant-based material
  • The compostable claim.
  • But did you read the fine print?

Well, if you didn’t, I have done it for you.

Plant-based plastics require a unique facility to be able to decompose properly. Now, this is actually for any plant-based plastic.

The so-called “bioplastic”!

Sounds promising, doesn’t it?

There are 8 in Canada and 220 in the USA, and the chances are that your coffee pods end up there are slim to none.

If you want to find a composting facility near you, try the button below. 👇

Here are my top takeaways from biodegradable coffee pods and the Keurig machine.

  1. Coffee tastes best when freshly ground.
  2. Capsules contain less coffee than my percolator and are less fresh.
  3. The cost of the capsules is about four times as much as loose beans.
  4. The pods create a massive problem for our environment.
  5. Plastic leeches chemicals into your coffee – this changes the flavor but also has health impacts.

Are reusable pods my best option?

As I was standing in the supermarket aisle earlier today, I was looking at the ground coffee, and there it was. A reusable coffee pod. But how good are they? The one in the supermarket was made of plastic. 🙁

While there are plenty of companies now making reusable coffee pods to fit any machine, I would only recommend the ones made from stainless steel.

Why?

We know that plastic leaches chemicals, especially when boiling water is poured over these little coffee pods. They release endocrine disruptors, which can mess with your hormones since they block the receptors. Not so good.

Ok, I am underexaggerating. It is a terrible idea to put plastic in contact with food. You should panic here!!!

Another plus of the reusable pods is that you can use fresh coffee and not the old stuff sitting in the pod for god knows how long.

Related:

What is Microplastic, and How to Avoid it?

The Dangers of Plastic Food Containers and 11 Ways to Avoid them.

Which one is the right reusable coffee pod for my machine?

The best solution is to use stainless steel coffee pods. Since they will not leach chemicals into your coffee, nor will they affect the taste. I have created this list of reusable stainless steel coffee pods for your convenience.

Note: Since I don’t use a pod machine, I read the Amazon ratings, and here is the result.

biodegradable coffee pods

Reusable coffee pod for Keurig

4.2 out of 5 stars (102 ratings)

Works on most Keurig machines.

biodegradable coffee pods

Reusable coffee pod for Illy

4.5 out of 5 stars (17 ratings)

Compatible for X7.1 X8 X9 Y 1.1 Y5 Series Original Line Machines

Recaps reusable coffee capsules for Nescafe

Recaps for Nescafe

3.8 out of 5 stars (258 ratings)

Compatible with most Nespresso machines but not all.

biodegradable coffee pods

Recaps for Nescafe

4 out of 5 stars (953 ratings)

Compatible with most Keurig machines but not all.

Fun Facts

The average American drinks 3.2 cups of coffee per day

Independent coffee shops equal $12 billion in annual sales.

At present, there are approximately 24,000 Coffee Shops across the US.

Statistics show there will be approximately 50,000+ Coffee Shops within the years to follow.

The average Espresso Drive-thru Business sells approximately 200-300 Cups of Espresso and Coffee Based Drinks per day.

41 % of Americans own a single-cup coffee maker.

In Hamburg, Germany, coffee pods were banned from state-run buildings as part of an environmental movement.

Well, I hope this article was helpful to you, and you can enjoy your next brew without having to screw up the planet.

6 thoughts on “Why changing to biodegradable coffee pods isn’t the answer.”

  1. Hi Hendrik, awesome post, who would have thought!, I for one have never thought about the environmental impact of such minuscule everyday items like making my morning coffee. I have seen several tv programs based on Pacific ocean plastic waste issues and where it collects, and what they are doing to clean it up, but what a major expense, who pays for this, us or the companies that provide these things. Great post keep up the awesome research and keep it green I’m all for it, Dell Wood

    • I know it is so easily overlooked. It’s just one straw. It’s only one coffee pod. Says 8 billion people. Well, you know what I mean. Donations and sponsors funded the ocean cleanup. All up, they got over 31 million in donations, which is a fantastic result.

  2. Great idea to start using biodegradable coffee pods or even the ones made out of steel. I like this. Thanks for sharing. Just recently I’ve read that scientists are working on some sort of biodegradable plastic material. I’m not sure about the name but it might be a lifesaver! Keep up the good work.

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