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Keurig And Other Coffee Pods Piling Up In Landfills Across America

Andres Nieto Porras/CC BY 2.0

It is one of the conundrums of our time: why people would pay more to lock themselves into a proprietary coffee brewing system that generates a ton of garbage when they could use a French Press in about the same time. As Tim Wall points out at Discovery News, discussing the Kuerig system that has become so popular:

The K-cups, as the plastic containers are called, are made of a plastic shell, lined with a paper filter and topped with aluminum. Individually, the components are recyclable, but put together they can only be trashed. What's more, the compost-able coffee grounds are trapped inside.

Nespresso, Tassimo and even Keurig claim that their pods are are "recyclable", but once again, what does that ridiculous word mean? That somebody who buys this thing for convenience is actually going to take off the foil, compost the coffee, separate the paper from the plastic and get them all to the right bin? Or do you let someone else do it? In Spain, they recycle Nespresso capsules; Petz described the process:

The consumer can drop of the used capsules in one of the 100 shops around Spain that participate in the recycling program. A logistics company picks up the used capsules and takes them to a composting plant in Catalonia, Spain. A mechanical process separates the coffee grounds from the aluminium. The coffee is then composted to create high-quality fertiliser whereas the aluminium goes to a nearby recycling plant.

This sounds like a good thing? Is that creating real value or is it just a feel-good sham after all those logistics? And since when is taking something made of paper, plastic and foil and using it once a good thing, even if it is "recyclable"? In 2007 I called it Design for Unsustainability:

Now, instead of having the choice of whatever coffee you want, you pay almost a buck per hit of their choice of brand, and a little plastic, foil and paper turd to throw in the garbage after. In the end, in the name of convenience, we have a machine that creates a captive audience for an overpriced proprietary coffee system that creates unnecessary waste.

Clearly, nothing has changed. More at Discovery News, and watch the video of an engineer explaining it on CNBC.

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Some parts of this article I would have to agree with. 'Overpriced' does not extend to the Aldi capsules. Yes, I use them.

Previously I have had cheap then expensive espresso machines (automatic and manual), plungers and filters. All the mucking about you might imagine with home-roast and fancy roasts, with blade grinders and burr grinders. The money wasted has been beyond a joke.

The Aldi machine and capsules makes as good a brew as we've made before and better than some you can pay $4 for in shops. And better than a lot of the fancy machines and beans I have bought and wasted time over in the past. The capsules are around .35c each, a lot cheaper than the fancy brands.

The capsules can be cut open and the contents scraped out and composted. I have done that, it is a tad tedious but do-able. Just cut the capsule across the long side with a knife and out rolls the grounds. Or you can rinse the grounds out, faster still.

There's no getting over the several layers of non-recyclable material the pods are made from. There's no getting over a lot of the used coffee is not composted. Few espresso shops have their spent grounds composted anyway. Even one shop would make more grounds in 1 day than I could hope to compost. I've never asked any of the shops for their grounds working on the theory that I could take only a fraction of their output and would be more of an inconvenience than a help to them.

It will be interesting to learn if the company in Spain is making a profit from what sounds like a creative and necessary service.

You still pay $46+ a kg for coffee as opposed to $40 a kg. Some companies like Illy make pods for expresso maker with just paper. You still have the freshness and perfectly pressed coffee but also the option to use your machine with or without pods.

If you don't like plungers, the aeropress is a good alternative. No deposit at the bottom of the cup and all recyclable material. We just use a percolator cone and filter straight on cup (European style ;-) to avoid the deposit you get with other systems. This also gives you the option of how strong you want your coffee. I like mine done differently according to my mood or the time of the day or the adding of milk or the phase of the moon aha!

I'd like to think I can grow and roast my own coffee one day but in the meantime I'd rather buy organic, decaf swiss water style, if not locally grown, at least fair trade. The choice in pods is very limited not to say non-existent.

I've never been a fan of these machines purely from a quality perspective. They barely pour a crema and it's certainly more expensive than buying coffee beans. You essentially pay more for the convenience of pushing a button. Each to their own I guess but I'm (admittedly) a bit of a snob with coffee.

I've got a Saeco Via Venezo Machine and Sunbeam Cafe Series grinder which set me back about $600 all up. I've the machine for 9 years now so I've certainly got the value out of it.

I've never thought about the extra wastage they create so that's another reason to dislike them.

Jeez, I just use a dripolator, but I do use Gloria Jeans Caramel coffee which I really like.  Yes, I know they are "not gay friendly" and I would swap if I could find a coffee that was as good. In the mean time, I just don't shop in their stores. 

These machines, especially the cheap alternaltives are very popular in offices... teams pool together to buy these machines, and use their own pods ..

I bring my own instant coffee since I don't mind instant


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