The most recent trend in coffee consumption has led to a rise of an efficient and cost-savvy personal beverage brewing system. Coffee pod brewing systems are designed to brew a single cup of coffee, tea, or other hot beverage. The grounds are in a single-serve coffee container – called a coffee pod – consisting of a plastic cup, aluminum lid, and filter. Each pod is filled with coffee grounds, tea leaves, cocoa powder, fruit powder, or other contents. Every pod is nitrogen flushed, sealed for freshness, and impermeable to oxygen, light, and moisture.

Coffee Pod Consequences

As simple and efficient as it is to use a person beverage brewing system, we often do not think of the short and long-term ramifications that come with disposing coffee pods in local landfills.

In the 2010s, beginning primarily with articles in The New York Times and The Atlantic, home brewing systems had been publicly criticized by environmental advocates and journalists for the endless amount of non-recyclable and non-biodegradable coffee pods that end up in landfills; while the cup portion of the coffee pods is made of safe plastic, it cannot be conventionally recycled.

As of today, the number of coffee pods in landfills could wrap around the planet more than 10 times.

Moreover, almost 25% of American homes owned a single cup brewing machine: that’s over 75 million homes brewing single-use pods every day, multiple times a day. This means that tens of billions of non-reusable, non-recyclable plastic pods have ended up in landfills – and that number is rapidly growing.

The End of the Coffee Pod?

From the rapid rise of homebrew systems and the following criticisms regarding the detrimental environmental impacts of disposable cups comes the “kill the coffee pod” movement; although the main voices behind the movement don’t necessarily endorse banning coffee pods altogether. Rather, they’ve proposed biodegradable, environmentally-friendly alternatives that effectively reduce long-term harm.

It’s clear that single-serve coffee is not going away any time soon. No government or business is going to ban a product that millions of people use every day, nor is a push to ban plastics going to result in a major consumer shift. While coffee pods are an essential part of many American households, the long-term effects of such consumption and disposal should be considered as they are integrated into our daily routine.

Understanding that our current method of consuming non-recyclable plastic is not sustainable, it is time to consider a fresh alternative that can accommodate every consumer need and encourage benevolent ecological outcomes.

Written on May 27, 2019.