There are some things that I will never understand, and near the top of the list is pod coffee products like Nespresso and Tassimo. That's where people buy coffee makers that lock them in to the purchase of pods from the manufacturer at surprisingly high prices. When I first reviewed the Tassimo I called it a 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 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 coffee system that creates unnecessary waste.
This shopping season, there is a big push to sell them in North America. Why now? According to the Wall Street Journal, it saves people money because it keeps them out of coffee joints:
The onslaught of advertising comes as consumers remain cautious about spending. Single-cup coffee typically costs less than $1 a serving, but consumers have to spend between $100 and $400 on the machines. There are also upscale models that cost well above $500....Still, food companies and analysts say consumers may be more willing to make coffee at home rather than buying it from local cafes.
Edward Tenner at the Atlantic thinks that's ridiculous.
But does cost saving really explain it? In high-rent Princeton, N.J. Starbucks is still charging only $1.50 plus tax for a cup of drip coffee, slightly more for a single-shot espresso. That makes the $1.00 pods not such a convincing bargain, unless you prefer the taste of pod coffee to coffee house brew. And if you're willing to do a little grinding you can buy a one-cup filter cone, including travel mug, for under $5.00
It is just another example where convenience trumps economy or concern for the environment; it is just easier. As far as the environment is concerned, people are happy to be greenwashed. In Britain, where they never knew how to make a good cup of coffee, the Nespresso machine is hugely popular. The have sold 26.9 billion coffee capsules and 13 million coffee machines since 1986. They make a huge deal of their ecological performance, building a whole website promoting ecolaboration. They will actually pick up your used pods at your door when they deliver your next batch of pods. Because under the normal recycling system, they are an unrecyclable mix of aluminum and plastic. According to a press release I just received:
Nespresso’s new initiative provides a ‘Doorstep Collection Service’ picking up all used coffee capsules with the home delivery of each new order of Grands Crus coffees direct to Club Members. Furthermore, select Nespresso Boutiques have a collection point in Selfridges stores where used capsules can be deposited and will soon be rolled out across other Nespresso Boutiques.
They even do elaborate life cycle assessments that conclude:
The Nespresso Espresso product, when capsule is sent to recycling, is the alternative among the investigated alternatives that has the lowest overall environmental impacts"
Except not listed in the investigated alternatives is the making of a cup of coffee in a french press and tossing the used grounds into the composting bin.
It all sounds lovely, until you compare shipping pods from Switzerland to the UK and pretending to collect them all and separate the metal and plastic and recycle it and remold it and make new pods, to grinding a bit of coffee and putting it in a french press or other simple device. It is the phoniest of greenwashing, pretending that it is virtuous instead of a complete waste of energy and effort.
This year, all of the pod people are doing massive advertising campaigns for the Christmas season. The WSJ reports that Kraft is doubling its spending on Tassimo, Keurig is dropping $ 20 million on advertising, and "Nestlé's Nespresso launched ads in the U.S. last week. Sleek print ads that tout the brand as "unique" and "refined" are appearing in magazines such as Vanity Fair and Food & Wine." There is no word about whether they will pick up and recycle the pods in North America.
But this is one present you do not want under your tree, no matter how green they pretend it is.