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Coffee Pods Are Yet Another Threat to Our Environment

Expresso coffee machine with capsules and coffee served background on wood table. Top view Coffee machines are constantly growing in popularity and, with that growth, comes an increasing number of coffee pods with their sales overtaking that of instant and ground coffee. And much of the increase in popularity of these machines is due to advertizing and endorsing by actor George Clooney on behalf of Nespresso.

Coffee pods are currently not biodegradable

They are made with a mix of plastic and aluminum which means they cannot be recycled at traditional facilities. Instead, millions of pods are added to landfill sites - and, unless anything changes, will continue to do so indefinitely where they can take up to two hundred years to decompose.

What does the future hold?

Nespresso has pledged to use 100% "sustainable managed" aluminum by 2020. The company will also recycle the pods themselves if customers take them into one of their stores or mail them direct.

The German city of Hamburg has banned coffee pods from state-run buildings as part of an environmental drive to reduce waste. Should others follow their example?

In the past decade or so, coffee drinkers worldwide have adopted a new method of getting their daily shot of caffeine - the coffee capsule machine, in which small plastic or aluminum pods capped with foil or filter paper containing coffee grounds are put into a machine that fills a cup quickly with tasty coffee. But increasingly the single-serving coffee pods, which Nespresso first sold in 1986 in four flavours, are attracting critics who say they are an environmental menace.

Nespresso have come out with a response

They say they will expand their capacity to collect used aluminum capsules to 100% wherever the company does business, increasing recycling rates. In addition, each time it makes environmental sense, they will recycle used Nespresso capsules collected by the company and re-use them as new capsules. Another key part of this vision is for 100% of their virgin aluminum capsules to be produced with material that is compliant with the new Aluminum Stewardship Initiative standard, currently being developed within a multi-stakeholder program led by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Those who care about the environment will need to keep an eye on those coffee maker companies to ensure they live up to their promises. But it is encouraging to see that big corporations are starting to respond to the concerns of the general public (and their customers) on environmental issues.

And another thing...

A 2011 study from NSF International (the public Health & Safety Organization) found half of coffee makers had yeast and mold growing in their reservoirs - with about one in ten harboring coliform bacteria.

What is the safest and most effective way to clean your coffee maker?

The magic ingredient is vinegar - to both santize and remove the mineral buildup from tap water.
  • The carafe, lid and filter basket should be cleaned daily with warm, sudsy water.
  • In addition, a coffee maker that is being used daily should be de-calcified once a month in hard water areas.
  • Similar rules apply for those coffee pod machines with debris easily clogging their nooks and crannies.
  • Machines will benefit from a vinegar de-tox every few months - depending on how often the machine is used.
  • Mold spores love moist, quiet environments. Don't leave your machine unwashed for days.

Top de-calcifying steps for your coffee maker

  1. Fill the coffee maker's water chamber with equal parts white vinegar and water.
  2. Using a paper filter, allow to brew until half the chamber is empty.
  3. Turn the coffee machine off, letting it set for 30 minutes before finishing the brewing.
  4. Rinse the machine by using a new paper filter to brew a pot of clear water, and repeat the process.
  5. After use, fill the carafe with warm, sudsy water and some rice as a gentle abrasive.
  6. Swirl the mixture in the pot before using a scrubber sponge to remove any gunk. Then rinse and dry.
  7. Finish by wiping the outside of the machine with a damp cloth. This should be done daily.
And enjoy your daily cups of coffee in as healthy a way as possible!