Prod­uct is a waste of money, re­sources, and a huge source of garbage clog­ging land­fills

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - DAPHNE BRAMHAM dbramham@post­ Twit­ter: @daph­ne­bramham

In 1998, Keurig launched what seemed like a niche-mar­ket de­vice that brewed a sin­gle cup of cof­fee us­ing a K-Cup, which has come to be known as a pod.

The ma­chine punc­tures the alu­minum lid of a plas­tic con­tainer filled with grounds, streams hot wa­ter through it, and out comes cof­fee.

For a while, no­body paid much at­ten­tion. Six years ago, only 15 per cent of Cana­di­ans owned a ma­chine that used the pods, and that was dou­ble the per­cent­age of Amer­i­cans who thought it was a good in­vest­ment or a good idea.

By 2017, 38 per cent of Cana­di­ans owned a sin­gle-cup sys­tem, along with a third of Amer­i­cans. From a mar­ket­ing point of view, it’s an amaz­ing story.

Cof­fee com­pa­nies have been forced to re­think and re­tool. Some, like Nespresso, have their own ma­chines as well as their own pods. Re­tail­ers have re­placed jars of in­stant cof­fee on shelves with boxes of pods, and even big cof­fee sellers like Tim Hor­tons and Star­bucks have branded their own.

Frankly, it’s never made sense to me. The con­ve­nience doesn’t trump ei­ther the in­creased cost or the moun­tain of garbage these things create. And de­spite hand­some Ge­orge Clooney’s ads, mak­ing a sin­gle cup of cof­fee at home by my­self has never re­ally screamed lux­ury to me. But, ap­par­ently lots of peo­ple like them.

In Canada last year, Toron­to­based Club Cof­fee es­ti­mated 2.8 mil­lion pods are dis­carded ev­ery day. In 2013, when fewer than 20 per cent of Amer­i­cans were us­ing pods, it was es­ti­mated that if you lined up only K-Cups alone (not in­clud­ing pods man­u­fac­tured by other sup­pli­ers), they would wrap the equa­tor 10.5 times. That’s a whole lot of trash at a time when most mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are al­ready drown­ing in garbage and sci­en­tists are only start­ing to dis­cover the harms of mi­croplas­tics and mi­crofi­bres in our rivers and oceans.

Lo­cally owned Canterbury Cof­fee’s One Cup was one of the first to have biodegrad­able pods made with com­postable ma­te­ri­als. Oth­ers have fol­lowed, but U.S. com­pa­nies have ended up in court be­cause their so-called com­postable pods can only be bro­ken down in in­dus­trial com­posters.

Un­like some of the oth­ers, Nespresso’s pods are made only from alu­minum, but it has pledged that by 2020 cus­tomers around the world will have re­cy­cling op­tions.

Ear­lier this month, with the help of Re­cy­cle B.C., it has ex­panded a pi­lot project it started last May in Co­quit­lam and An­more.

Since March 1, Van­cou­ver Nespresso buy­ers get free re­cy­clable green bags for their used pods. Those bags can be used for curb­side re­cy­cling. Re­cy­cle B.C. col­lects them and ships them off to what Nespresso de­scribes as a part­ner with a “one-of-a-kind-in­Canada” process that sep­a­rates the grounds and the alu­minum. The alu­minum is re­pur­posed and the grounds be­come com­post.

Nei­ther Nespresso nor Re­cy­cle B.C. will say how much it will cost, or even how many pods are likely to be re­cy­cled through this pro­gram.

The cost doesn’t come from gov­ern­ments and tax­pay­ers, Nespresso and Re­cy­cle B.C. are quick to point out. In­stead, it’s buried in the price con­sumers pay be­cause Re­cy­cle B.C. is a non-profit sup­ported by the in­dus­tries that pro­duce pa­per and plas­tic waste.

Still, it seems more con­ve­nient and likely less ex­pen­sive than what Nespresso has set up in the United States. There, clean, used pods can be put into pre­paid UPS bags and dropped off at UPS or Sta­ples. From there, they go to re­cy­cling fa­cil­i­ties. In Bri­tain, con­sumers have to clean them and take them to Nespresso bou­tiques. (Yes, cof­fee bou­tiques.)

So, how many pods end up in B.C. land­fills? No­body has done the cal­cu­la­tion. But Lang­don said: “It’s safe to say that not many are re­cy­cled.”

And that means tax­pay­ers and mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments are stuck with the costs at a time when land­fills are quickly fill­ing up.

Yet even if con­sumers do com­post or re­cy­cle the in­creas­ingly ubiq­ui­tous pods, the en­vi­ron­men­tal costs are enor­mous, from the in­put costs of pro­duc­ing, trans­port­ing and sell­ing sin­gle­serve con­tain­ers to the costs of pick­ing up the used ones and de­liv­er­ing them to ei­ther land­fills or re­cy­cling de­pots.

We don’t need sin­gle-use cof­fee pods along with the mostly plas­tic ma­chines that make them work any more than we need sin­gle-use plas­tic straws or most plas­tic bags or even plas­tic cut­lery.

So why have them? Con­ve­nience? It’s not hard to make cof­fee. It doesn’t even take that long, re­gard­less of whether you’re us­ing old-fash­ioned in­stant or a French press. Be­sides, don’t you miss out on some­thing when you can’t smell the cof­fee brew­ing ?


The ubiq­ui­tous Keurig K-Cup and sim­i­lar sin­gle-use cof­fee pods pro­duce a tremen­dous amount of garbage in our land­fills and even if they can be re­cy­cled, the cost and ef­fort is hardly worth the sup­posed con­ve­nience these prod­ucts prom­ise, writes Daphne Bramham.


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