Convenient coffee doesn’t have to be environmentally unfriendly coffee. Single-serve coffee machines have exploded in popularity over the past decade. What started in 1986 as a simple solution to brewing barista perfected espresso at home has now blossomed into a $13 billion market.
However, while millions of people worldwide enjoy the convenience of high-quality coffee at home, a battle was brewing over another issue of the immense amount of waste all these single-use coffee pods were producing. Millions of coffee pods are used each day in Canada and unfortunately, too many of these pods are still making their way into landfills.
Coffee pod makers like Nespresso and Keurig are not open to speaking of the disastrous environmental consequence of their products. Both companies and many others in the industry have been working diligently to tackle single-use coffee pod waste. And the result has been a growing number of recyclable coffee pods. While there are over 400 different brands of coffee pods out there today, two brands continue to dominate the market- Nespresso (Nestle) and Keurig (Keurig Dr. Pepper).
Marketed as a premium product, Nespresso utilizes sleek and colourful aluminum packaging for its coffee pods. In addition to being visually appealing, the aluminum packaging is also infinitely recyclable which is good news for consumers and the environment. Nespresso launched its first recycling program in 1991 and has since expanded its recycling efforts to include more than 53 countries worldwide.
They aren’t, however, the only multination coffee pod maker trying to win over consumers with green initiatives. After intense consumer backlash over using non-recyclable plastic #7 for its K-Cups, Keurig switched its coffee pods over to a 100% recyclable format, helping to ensure fewer pods wind up in landfills.
Nespresso Makes Changes to Its Coffee Pod Recycling Program
Between 2018 and 2020, residents of participating communities in British Columbia and Quebec were encouraged to recycle their Nespresso pods alongside their regular recycling in green recycling bags. These bags were then sent to a specialized recycling facility where the coffee grounds were separated from the aluminum capsules. The disposed of coffee is used to manufacture high-quality compost while the aluminum is recycled.
Communities that were not part of the green bag program could still recycle their coffee pods by collecting their used pods in black recycling bags and dropping them off at designated shipping locations.
In 2020, the green bag pilot project ended and Nespresso made some changes to its recycling program while also expanding its availability. Working in partnership with Canada Post, Nespresso club members can now use red bags to mail their used pods to designated recycling centres at no charge. Red bags can be left in mailboxes or deposited at any Canada Post outlet.
The green bag program is still running in some parts of Quebec and Saskatchewan.
Keurig Goes Green
Unlike Nespresso, which operates its recycling program, Keurig K-Cups can go in with residents’ regular recycling (but only in some communities). However, recycling these pods requires a little more effort on behalf of the consumer.
Where Nespresso pods are deposited whole into red (or green) bags and sent to designated recycling facilitates to be sorted, separated, and recycled, Keurig pods need to be dismantled and cleaned before they can go into the plastics recycling bins.
Keurig consumers are asked to remove the foil or plastic tops, dispose of the coffee grounds (which can be composted), and clean out the plastic containers before depositing them into bins, just as required by other plastic containers before recycling.
On the flip side, no side trips to the mailbox or post office are needed to recycle K-Cups; just toss them in with the regular weekly recyclables.
Keurig recently settled a $3 million lawsuit for making misleading claims about the recyclability of its K-Cups. While the company has switched over its production to a recyclable plastic formula, many Canadian recycling programs are not still accepting these pods in regular recycling pickups. Currently, recycling of these pods is only widely available in British Columbia and Quebec.
The company has stated it is working with other municipalities to expand the availability of K-Cup recycling programs.
Recycling Programs are Available; Now It’s Up to Consumers
The hard work has been done. People complained, and corporations listened. Nespresso pods are made from 80% recycled aluminum, which is infinitely recyclable, and the company manages its recycling program, which is free for consumers. Bags are given out at no cost when they buy coffee pods online or in-store and can be dropped off at any mailbox or Canada post outlet.
However, despite the accessibility of the program, Nespresso has stated that only about 30% of its pods are recycled.
It’s up to consumers now to put in the effort to ensure their coffee pods are recycled where recycling programs are available or to consider switching to other methods of coffee brewing where they are not.