From a sustainability perspective, coffee may always be a somewhat guilty pleasure. There are sustainability issues with some coffee growing practices, and (depending on where you live), your coffee may have many food miles on it before it makes it to the roaster and then to your cup.
What's more, to-go coffee cups are often made of unrecyclable plastic-coated paper. Cold brew bottles need to be recycled to reduce their impact on the environment. Making your own coffee at home is somewhat more environmentally friendly than getting coffee on the go, but the biggest trend in home-brewed coffee, the single-use K-Cup Coffee pod, is often the most tricky.
But with a little effort or a potential clever workaround, we can find ways to enjoy our daily cup of coffee without as much of an impact on the environment. Read on for a guide on how to make your coffee consumption, especially with Keurig K-Cup style coffee, more sustainable.
What Your Coffee Pods Are Made Of
Depending on what brand of coffee you’re buying and who is manufacturing the K-Cup Pods that it’s packaged in, your coffee pods could be made of a few different materials. Nearly all coffee pods, however, are manufactured with some plastic and some aluminum.
The pods that Nestle sells its Nespresso products in, for example, are made entirely of aluminum. Because of this, they are recyclable in the majority of curbside programs and at the majority of recycling centers throughout the country. All of the other pods on the market are made with a combination of plastics (or plastic and aluminum) and are also recyclable to varying degrees, depending on where you live.
Some General Information About Recycling That Affects Pod Recycling
It is important to now that simply because a product is recyclable does not mean that it is recyclable where you live. As mentioned above, aluminum (provided that it is clean) is recyclable nearly everywhere within reach of a recycling center.
Plastics are numbered for recycling purposes, depending on their makeup. Numbers one through six are desirable for recycling (to varying degrees) throughout the country. Be sure to check with your local recycling center or municipal recycling program to make sure which of the various numbers are recyclable in your area. Plastics marked with the number seven are the least recyclable of all (due to lack of demand).
For most recycling programs, materials must be separated and cleaned before they can be processed. This separation and cleaning duty generally falls on the shoulders of the consumer looking to recycle their waste. Contamination of the stream of recyclable materials with plastics that are not locally accepted is a major issue plaguing just about every recycler throughout the country. Food contamination of recyclable packaging is also a major issue.
As a consumer engaging in recycling of your K-Cup Coffee pods and other common coffee paraphernalia, best practices for you to employ include separating plastic from aluminum, discarding plastic not recycled by your local program, and cleaning all food residue (coffee grounds) from all packaging prior to putting it in the bins.
Looking for Environmentally Friendly Recycling Alternatives?
For some, given the hassle associated with preparing the materials involved in making coffee from pods for recycling, and the unpleasant alternative—landfilling used coffee pods—finding an alternative to the coffee pod method of home brewing coffee may be the answer.
A few great alternatives to single-cup coffee pod brewing include pour-over style coffee, using a French press, and replacing pods with a reusable, cleanable mesh metal filter. That way, you can continue to use the K-Cup Pod brewing machine that you’ve grown so accustomed to, but with a clearer conscience about your relationship to the environment. And that is exactly what Earth Day is all about.