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Sustainability Quiz 40: Disposable Coffee Pods

Sustainability Quiz 40: Disposable Coffee Pods

Sustainability Quiz 40: Disposable single-use convenience products are a marketing dream. But most disposables are created for ultra convenience, while a powerful marketing opp, come at a high planet cost

According to Coffee Capsule Global Market Report 2022, the coffee capsule market is expected to grow to $12.33 billion in 2022 and to grow to $16.7 billion in 2026. That's a lot of coffee capsules piling up in landfill for 500 years. 

Approx 39,000 coffee pods are produced every minute and up to 29,000 end up in landfill. How long does a pod take to break down?
    150 years
    250 years
    400 years
    500 years

Climate activists often talk about products that should never have been invented. Products that are invented for convenience, but waste resources and energy way beyond their (literal) weight. In the case of disposable pods, small amounts of coffee are put into larger amounts of plastic and aluminium and transported all over the world. Coffee Capsules are the poster child of resource hungry, waste creating convenience.

What are disposable coffee capsules made of?

The majority of coffee capsules are made from Polypropylene or Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT), food grade plastic with aluminium foil lids. Increasingly capsules are made from aluminium, but these do have a plastic lining.

The environmental problem

The growth of coffee pods/capsules has exploded with nearly 40,000 of the little blighters sold every minute. Their sheer convenience, coupled with some very very slick marketing have put them front and centre in a majority of kitchens around the world.

The environmental problem caused firstly by the use of resources to make the pods and secondly by what is commonly referred to as 'the incorrect disposal of the capsules' is staggering. 

The recycling myth

Some coffee capsules are recycled - potentially up to 15% of them, at a generous average. In reality, every part of a coffee capsule can be recycled, but the means to recycle them easily simply doesn't exist. The small used capsules, which are typically composed of plastic, aluminium, and organic material (coffee, milk, chocolate, water), are technically easy.


To recycle properly, people who use pods either return them to a vendor recycle program or send to Terracycle collectors. You can also diy by separating the parts of the capsules and collect the aluminium, the plastic and the organic material separately, before throwing them into the trash, green bin and recycle bin.

The free chemical infusion

Coffee pods are made from a combination of plastics and aluminium, and the type of plastic these coffee pods are made of may contain potentially harmful chemicals that can trickle to your beverage. There is plenty of research on various health concerns regarding plastic and heat. Plastic chemicals such as BPA, BPF, and BPS have known disruptors of the endocrine, contributing to hormonal imbalance, fertility, and weight gain. 

Some pods are made from aluminium, which has health concerns of its own. Exposure to aluminium is harmful to the brain and can cause depression, anxiety, autoimmune disease, or Alzheimer’s disease. 

What can you do?

The best action you can take is not to buy any kind of disposable pods. If you do buy them, be aware of your choices and either choose a stainless steel reusable from someone like Crema Joe, who have published some tips on how to max your coffee capsules; or a compostable one if you have a compost bin.

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