Ever since their creation 40 years ago by Eric Flavre, the inventor of Nespresso, coffee pods have become increasingly popular throughout the UK, as domestic coffee machines have become a staple of almost any modern kitchen.
However, their superior taste and convenience come at an environmental cost. Many consumers believe coffee pods to be recyclable. In reality, almost all coffee pods cannot be recycled.
Why can’t they be recycled?
Despite many consumers believing that coffee pods can be recycled, the sad truth is that almost all coffee pods cannot be recycled. This is a result of their complex construction, being made with a mixture of plastics and aluminium making them near impossible to recycle accurately
Further to this, coffee pods often retain leftover ground coffee within them. This natural waste makes pods difficult to recycle at local recycling plants.
Recyclable and biodegradable coffee pods
Coffee brands have become aware of the problem and are actively making an effort to make it easier for consumers to recycle single-use coffee pods.
Big-name brands, such as Nespresso, Dolce Gusto, Lavazza and Illy have backed schemes, or created their own, that attempt to make the recycling of their pods accessible for all.
Lavazza has gone a step further and created ‘compostable’ coffee pods. These pods are made with thistles and are designed to break down over time, making them an environmentally viable option for the everyday domestic consumer.
Podback: Nespresso, Dolce Gusto and Tassimo pod recycling
The owners of the UK’s three biggest coffee pod brands have joined forces to establish a nationwide recycling scheme for single-serve pods.
The recycling scheme, known as Podback, officially launched this month, April 2021. Created by Nestle and Jacobs Douwe Egberts, the scheme aims to make recycling of coffee pods convenient and accessible for all, ensuring the reduction of coffee pods making it to landfill.
There are a variety of ways to recycle through the scheme:
Collect+. There are more than 6,500 Collect+ drop-off points in local stores. Customers can take used pods to these spots, which include newsagents, petrol stations and shopping centres, where they'll be dealt with by Yodel.
Kerbside collection. The Podback group is aiming to make recycling easier by having coffee pods collected alongside regular household waste and recycling. The scheme needs cooperation from local councils in order to make this possible, with a handful of local councils signing on with the scheme already. We can only hope others follow suit.
'Handover at home'. The Podback organisers are in discussions with major retailers, so consumers will potentially be able to hand over their used pods every time they have groceries delivered.
The simple answer is that due to the intensive manufacturing process and the waste left after use, the majority of coffee pods will not be environmentally-friendly.
Even each coffee brand's respective recyclable coffee pods aren’t the best, as they often require the consumer returning the pods to them in-store or at a registered recycling station. This makes the process unviable for a number of consumers, who don’t have the time or capability to travel to these designated recycling points.
However, the coffee industry is changing. The introduction of ‘Podback’ is a positive sign of changes to come in the near future.