Environmental benefits of coffee pods
Reliance on single-shot coffee pods is bad for the environment as energy is spent growing beans, making pods, brewing coffee and disposing of waste. And new research shows that recyclable aluminium capsules are more environmentally friendly than all other capsules, whether they’re made of plastic or compostable material.
According to a market research firm, in the U.S. alone, sales of their machines have increased from 1.8 million units in 2008 to 20.7 million units in 2018 over the past decade. To understand the environmental impact of our coffee habits, it is important to conduct life cycle assessments of all types of coffee extraction methods.
Alf Hill, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Bath, examined all stages of coffee production, from bean cultivation to waste disposal, to assess impacts on ecosystems, climate change and water. Drip or filter coffee comes in third, while traditional espresso has the lowest environmental impact. Hill says that impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions, and water and fertilizer use occur primarily where coffee is grown. The coffee pods online tend to require less coffee to prepare a single drink, so throwing away capsules is more wasteful.
Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, a barista who works with researchers says that his instant coffee extracts many of the ingredients from the bean, which uses less coffee per cup. Sustainability does not always score good marks. Hill’s study supports other studies conducted in recent years that suggest capsules are less harmful to the environment than alternative coffee extraction methods.
Aside from the environmental impact of growing the beans in the first place, the second biggest blow is the energy required to brew the coffee. Here’s why barista-made espresso is underrated in terms of environmental footprint. Even brewing a small cup of espresso takes a lot of energy. Sebastien Humbert, his Life Cycle Assessment expert at a company that works with many organizations to improve sustainability, believes that the focus should be on responsible consumers, not average consumers warns that filters can make his coffee with slightly fewer ill effects than capsules.
Despite numerous studies showing that filter coffee and espresso are actually worse for the environment than capsules, Colonna Dashwood says the general public simply isn’t paying attention. A study compared brewing, heating, and coffee waste power consumption for single-serve and filter coffee brewing. Single-serve coffee uses exact portions of freshly brewed coffee, which reduces coffee waste, but filter coffee makers often throw away leftovers.
Meanwhile, a study by KTH in Stockholm found that filter coffee had the worst environmental impact. That’s because filter coffee per cup requires about 7 grams of beans to brew one cup, compared to 5.7 grams for capsule coffee. Add this to the billions of cups of coffee that are drunk worldwide each year, and it rapidly increases the number of coffee beans that need to be grown, harvested, processed, and transported, and all the energy that consumes them. It is the cup that heats the water needed for preparation.
Of course, the fact that capsules are superior to the majority of other coffee-making techniques doesn’t change the reality that any product that produces waste constitutes a threat to the environment. It just comes down to whose caffeine-free evil is more tolerable.