When we throw away our coffee pods in the recycling bin, what really happens to them?
Over the past few years, coffee capsules have become increasingly popular at home and at work. They make our lives easier and provide us with quality coffee. According to the Coffee Association of Canada, over 70% of the population drinks coffee regularly (2020). But as we become increasingly concerned about our environmental footprint, we must wonder if coffee capsules are really recycled. The answer to this question is: it depends on which coffee capsule you are talking about and if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to recycle them.
Not all coffee capsules are the same
Coffee capsules are made of aluminum, others of plastic, but they all contain one common ingredient: coffee. Capsules are inserted individually and are fabricated in a format made solely for certain types of coffee machines, the coffee capsules are generally small and of different shapes and sizes. Since they are not all designed and manufactured in the same way, the way they are recycled differs from one company to another. However, regardless of the company, coffee capsules, because of their very small size, are not able to be captured by the machines in the sorting centers and therefore, if they are thrown away individually, they end up in the garbage.
Companies tell you how to recycle their coffee capsules
In Quebec, there are about three companies selling coffee capsules that stand out on the shelves: Nespresso, Keurig and Tassimo. We note that more and more brands tend to impose themselves on the coffee capsule market by imitating the format of an existing capsule and inserting their own product inside. Each company indicates how to recycle (or not!) their products on their respective websites.
1) Nespresso capsules
Nespresso capsules are made of 80% recycled aluminum and are completely recyclable. Aluminum is a material that does not lose its properties if it is remelted. The company has introduced two different colored bags to recycle its capsules: the lime green bag which, once filled with coffee capsules, can be placed in the recycling bin; and the black bag which, once filled with coffee capsules, must be returned to a Nespresso store for recycling. The color of the bag is determined by your region. Currently, more than 500 municipalities in Quebec offer Nespresso capsule recycling at their sorting centers. In 2016, Nespresso coffee capsules were accepted at the sorting center owned today by Ricova, in the Saint-Michel borough.
Once arrived at the sorting center, the bags are set aside by the sorters and taken to a specialized center in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu for recycling. The coffee grounds that are in the capsules are separated from the pod then processed and sold to local farms as fertilizer. As for the aluminum, it is remelted. It can eventually be used to re-create other Nespresso coffee capsules.
2) Keurig capsules
Keurig capsules are made of plastic 5 which, in Quebec, is accepted in most sorting centers. There is no bag in which to put the capsules. According to the manufacturer’s instructions, coffee capsules must be placed in the recycling bin. Before doing so, Keurig indicates that it is necessary to remove the operculum, which is the right word for the often metalized film that seals the capsule, and to empty the coffee grounds into the compost if possible or, if not, into the garbage, and then place the coffee capsule in the recycling bin. These three easy steps are necessary to optimize the recycling of the Keurig coffee capsule.
3) Tassimo capsules
The manufacturer’s website is clear: Tassimo capsules are not recyclable and should be placed in the trash.
Placed individually in the recycling bin, the coffee capsules are very poorly captured by the machines of the sorting centers and very often end up in the garbage. They are small, volatile if empty and often crushed or hidden by or in other objects.
Reusable coffee capsules are still an option
Reusable capsules are popular with consumers who want to ensure they get their favorite brand of coffee without using capsules on a daily basis, even if they are recyclable. There are several models of reusable coffee capsules, some plastic and others stainless steel. You just must find the model compatible with the machine you have at home or at work and that’s it!
And if the solution was...the good old filter coffee?
We all agree that coffee capsules are practical, but they produce materials that are not always properly recycled. There is not only the coffee capsule to consider in the equation, there is also its packaging and the number of capsules consumed! Filtered coffee, which only requires a filter and ground coffee according to the desired quantity, is the least wasteful option. In addition, it can satisfy the thirst of the most insatiable coffee consumers with several cups.
Every little bit helps. Sometimes it starts with a cup of filtered coffee.