Many people believe they’re doing the right thing by recycling. Whilst it’s more effective than sending waste to landfill, the costs behind the process aren’t viable long term.
The problem with recycling is it’s unsustainable. It’s perceived to be good, encouraging consumers to feel better knowing their resources will be recirculated. After all, there’s less guilt in wasting materials. But recycling causes resource consumption and pollution.
So how do you drink a sustainable cup of coffee if you use pods? Choose reusable coffee pods over recyclable or biodegradable.
If you want to stop supporting businesses that make waste, you need to understand the good, bad and ugly of recycling pods and why reusable capsules are the best option for the environment.
What Happens When You Recycle Coffee Pods
The process isn’t as simple as throwing your single-use pod into the yellow bin.
Because of their size, pods cannot be accepted from kerbside. They rely on collection boxes and special resources instead.
Once disposed of properly, bags of used pods are sent to recycling facilities for sorting. The pods are then shredded to separate coffee grounds from the aluminium and plastic. Sometimes the aluminium is melted and recycled, with leftover coffee grounds turned into compost. This is best-case scenario.
The issue is, recycling machines are only designed to cater for bottles, cans, and boxes, not the small size of pods. Coffee pods have become a contaminant to the system because sorting streams are unable to separate them. Not all councils are able to recycle pods either. Read about the recycling process and why Australia is so bad at it.
Then there are the costs and energy consumption involved.
Costs have increased since China stopped collecting recycling from Australia. Now, many councils have had to abandon recycling schemes and send waste to landfill to avoid the extra expense.
Recycling single-use pods cost Australia in dollars and resources. The process is energy-intensive and leaves behind a big environmental footprint.
Consumers often forget the aim of waste management is to lessen consumption, or at least reuse materials without the need for recycling. But recycling should be the last resort. It’s not a solution nor a sustainable way to minimise and manage waste.
The Trouble with Plastic and Aluminium
Single-use pods are usually made from plastic and aluminium.
This mix of materials makes the recycling process more complicated. Consequently, pods made from plastic with aluminium lining are not recyclable at all.
Mixed plastics and aluminium are toxic and don’t break down in landfill. Plastics that are recycled are problematic because of the quality loss. Unlike stainless steel, which can be recycled multiple times without jeopardising its grade, plastic recycling has limits. In fact, plastic can only be recycled once or twice before it's deemed useless. The air pollution from burning plastic is also harmful to our environment, and the microplastics left behind are destructive to our health and habitat.
What about aluminium pods without plastic?
Although it’s a lighter material than steel, aluminium needs more energy to split the bond (between aluminium and oxygen) to form and recycle the metal. The production also uses a lot of heat. Compared to steel, aluminium is unsustainable, with higher carbon emissions.
Biodegradable and Compostable Coffee Pods
Fortunately, there are greener options.
Biodegradable and compostable pods are better alternatives to single-use. They reduce waste but also come with their own set of disposal challenges.
Consumers choose compostable to recycle nutrients back into the Earth. But how much of the good stuff actually gets there? The answer depends on the brand and the process they use.
The bad news is, biodegradable and compostable materials still rely on industrial facilities to deteriorate. They need certain conditions, like high temperatures, UV light and moisture levels within a set timeframe. The method requires a lot of transportation and energy.
Even pods made from plant-based bioplastics such as sugarcane leave behind toxic residues. Whilst they seem like an environmentally-friendly idea, less than 1% of these pods make it to commercial composting. They end up in landfill instead.
The Most Sustainable Option - Reusable Coffee Pods
Many coffee pod companies claim their products are recyclable and they’re right. It’s how the pods are collected and the system complications that make them unsustainable.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t make recycling a responsible solution.
Although brands like Nespresso are committed to making a difference, when it comes to minimising waste, recycling is too late. Such companies make consumers feel good about their purchases, but with recycling rates under 30%, they’re still supporting a business that makes 70% waste.
Reusable coffee pods refuse the need for plastic and energy-hungry recycling. They don’t emit methane, deteriorate into microplastics or take hundreds of years to breakdown.
The best way to minimise and manage waste is to avoid unnecessary plastic purchases and waste. Reusable coffee pods allow you to enjoy waste-free coffee and repurpose the grinds into compost and your garden at home.
Ready to make the switch to reusables? Take a look at our reusable range or contact us for more information.