Refillable or biodegradable coffee capsules: what impact on the environment?


Disposable plastic coffee capsules are potentially harmful to the environment, but how do they compare to potentially more sustainable options such as biodegradable, compostable or reusable coffee capsules?

There is little clarity on the subject, which is why a guide that goes into more depth on this issue is useful.

Making coffee the old way is definitely the best method because there is less material that will be used. However, if you prefer the aroma of coffee capsules, you should read the information contained in this article.

Biodegradable and compostable coffee capsules: what does this mean?

Convenience, ease of use and consistency are certainly the reasons for the enormous success of coffee capsules. You put the capsule in the machine, a few seconds later you enjoy your coffee. Finally, throw the capsule away without thinking twice.

However, in recent years, people have developed a greater sensitivity towards environmental issues. The coffee capsules were also put on trial. Are they really as sustainable as many say?

First of all, let’s try to understand the correct meaning of the terms. Biodegradable refers to any material that will disintegrate when in contact with water, soil or air. This process is facilitated by the presence of living organisms such as bacteria. The process can take months or years.

On the other hand, compostable also refers to something that decomposes in nature and, at the same time, increases the levels of nutrients present in sound. Generally speaking, when we talk about a compostable material we are referring to something that will disintegrate quite quickly.

Therefore, before buying coffee capsules it is important to read what information is entered on the package. Some of these will not be compostable at all, while others will be in composting plants and not when they are separated in a domestic environment.

The most ecological coffee capsules: reusable or recyclable?

Biodegradable, or compostable, coffee capsules are an excellent solution to reduce the amount of waste produced by man but it is very complicated to dispose of them.

As a general rule, biodegradable or compostable packaging that looks like plastic will need an industrial composting plant to be destroyed. Coffee pods made entirely from plant-based bioplastics (derived from corn or sugar cane) also need high industrial temperatures, humidity levels, and UV light to decompose in a reasonable amount of time. Despite this, coffee capsules of this type can leave behind toxic residues and micro-fragments.

Therefore, there is currently a lack of large-scale infrastructures to collect this packaging material and this can turn into a global problem.

Are compostable or biodegradable coffee pods more ecological?

Some plastic coffee capsules are recyclable but their recycling process is not so convenient for the companies involved in this activity. For example, if we consider Nespresso pods, they must be brought to a Nespresso store or to a collection point affiliated with the company.

Other brands, on the other hand, require the capsules to be cleaned and disassembled before recycling them in separate parts. Therefore, it is the CEO of Nespresso himself who says that the recycling rate of the pods is less than 5%. In addition, the energy required to transport and treat the capsules in a recycling plant must also be considered. Considering the entire life cycle of these products, are they really the most sustainable solution?

In reality, the goal for the human being is to consume less. This results in less waste and also less energy used to produce a product.

In fact, it would be absurd not to consider all the small wastes of energy to drink a measly cup of coffee. The energy production in all these processes is so great that no single-use item can compare to a reusable product, even if it is recyclable, compostable or biodegradable.


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