How Sustainable Is Your Coffee Pod Habit?

How do you make your morning cup of coffee? For many of us, coffee capsules are the way to a perfect home brew, with 30% of Britons owning a coffee pod machine, according to research for The Grocer. But while coffee capsules are convenient, they also pose a potential (non-caffeine related) headache: how do you dispose of the pods after use in an environmentally friendly way?

Trying to recycle used capsules is often not easy. The two materials that the majority of coffee capsules are made from, plastic and aluminium, must be separated, and this cannot be done in standard recycling plants. Aluminium coffee pods reportedly take between 150 to 500 years to decompose. In 2016, the city of Hamburg even banned coffee pods from state-run buildings in an attempt to minimise environmental waste.

But there are definitely options available if you want to do your bit for the planet without ditching the coffee pods. Being mindful of which capsules you buy and how you dispose of them is a great way to reduce the waste footprint of the UK’s coffee pod obsession.

Your guide to recycling coffee pods

Most coffee pods need specialist recycling schemes – leading capsule coffee company Nespresso told HuffPost UK that an estimated 21% of their pods are currently recycled, with the remainder going to landfill or being incinerated. Here’s the low-down on all the major coffee capsule brands’ green agenda:

Nespresso: If you are a Nespresso Member, you can recycle your capsules by either returning them to Nespresso boutiques if you live in London. Alternatively you can book a home collection or sending them to Nespresso via CollectPlus or Doddle.

Dolce Gusto: There is no current official recycling strategy for Dolce Gusto coffee pods. A solution is due to be announced later this year, according to Nestle.

Tassimo: Recycling company Terracycle are in the process of running a designated recycling scheme for Tassimo coffee pods only. Pods are collected by volunteers from 150 collection points around the UK and sent back to TerraCycle, raising money for charity in the process. Terracycle has previously run recycling schemes for Dolce Gusto.

Lavazza: There is no official recycling strategy for Lavazza coffee pods. But the company has announced the release this spring of a compostable pod range following a five-year research project.

Starbucks: You can collect a recycling bag from your local UK Starbucks branch and return your used capsules to be recycled. You can return any Nespresso-compatible capsules, not just Starbucks’ own brand. Leftover coffee grounds, which make up 95% of the weight of a used capsule, are recycled by Starbucks to produce renewable energy and the capsule is broken apart so that the plastic casing and aluminium foil inside is separated.

Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference and Dualit’s NX Coffee Pods range are recyclable through your local council’s recycling system as they are made out of polypropylene, a recyclable plastic. Dualit also have a range of compostable pods that break down within 90 days. These can go in designated food waste bins where composting is available.

Smaller-scale coffee brands like Percol and Novel L’Espresso also sell compostable pods that are compatible with Nespresso machines. Percol’s range is made from plant-based plastic, with ingredients like sugar beet and sugarcane; Novel L’Espresso’s is made using bio-based materials.

Neither M&S nor Lidl’s own-brand capsules are currently recyclable. However, both are looking to work towards more sustainable pods. M&S is due to release a range of recyclable coffee pods by 2019, according to an M&S spokesperson.

HuffPost UK also asked supermarkets such as Waitrose, Asda and Tesco regarding their own-brand coffee pods and whether they were recyclable but did not receive a response.