Coffee pod machines offer decent coffee with a level of convenience your local barista will be hard-pressed to match, but the little pods that make this possible aren’t exactly great for the environment.
Most pods are made from aluminium and mixed plastics that contain a single portion of coffee, but they also contain other materials like silicone and lacquer. They’re technically recyclable, but can be harmful to the environment if not disposed of properly because of their non-biodegradable elements. Some of these elements can take more than 500 years to break down, releasing hazardous amounts of methane gas as they do so.
You might be asking, why is it so difficult if aluminium cans are easily recyclable? According to Canstar Blue, “The aluminium used to create each capsule is said to be too small for collection facilities to properly process because the recycling system is usually designed to handle larger items like bottles and cans,” leaving the pods to filter through.
Properly recycling coffee pods ultimately comes down to you and isn’t quite as straight forward as chucking them in the correct recycling bin. Part of the process comes down to choosing a brand that runs or supports a specialised pod recycling program. According to research conducted by Canstar Blue, 28% of Aussies prefer to go with pods that minimise their environmental footprint.
Many brands available in Australia have partnered with a recycling and upcycling company called TerraCycle, which takes hard-to-recycle products and gives them new life. “TerraCycle reuses, upcycles and recycles waste instead of incinerating or landfilling it,” TerraCycle’s website reads. “This moves waste from a linear system to a circular one, allowing it to keep cycling in our economy.”
These programs are funded by the brands that use them, meaning you, the consumer, can take advantage of them for free. For L’OR, Moccona and illy coffee pods, you can get information on how to recycle them via TerraCycle here. Most of these programs have local drop-off locations for used pods or a system that lets you ship them to TerraCycle for free.
“Collect your used L’OR, Moccona & illy capsules at home using any available bag placed inside a box. When you are ready to send in a shipment, download a shipping label from your TerraCycle account by clicking ‘Ship us your waste’ and follow the prompts,” the website says. “Ship the box to TerraCycle by dropping it off at your nearby post office.”
TerraCycle will even offer you $0.02 per piece of waste on shipments over 5kg which can be donated to non-profit organisations or schools of your choice. Not a bad way to give back to the community while helping the environment, right?
Nespresso runs its own capsule recycling program which has more than 19,000 collection points across Australia. You can find your nearest one here, along with information on how the program works.
Some companies make their coffee pods with a plastic material called polyethylene (PETE or PET) which is much easier to recycle, allowing you to pop them into your home recycling bin.
If you’re not sure how to recycle your favourite brand’s pods, their website should provide more information on how to go about it. If they don’t have a program, it could be time to reconsider your choice of pod.