New coffee pods are 100% compostable, which we sort of think is perhaps a good thing, kind of.
TreeHugger has never had anything good to say about pod coffee or the pod people who sell it or drink it; it just always seemed like the world’s biggest, most ridiculous win of convenience over sustainability or economics, or flavour for that matter. We have in fact called them the ultimate design for unsustainability.
But I was surprised to see a booth set up in little Dorset, Ontario by Muskoka Roastery, the local roaster in cottage country north of Toronto, displaying what they call a 100 percent compostable Keurig compatible coffee pod. Can this really exist?
Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0
Actually, yes. The PurPod was developed by Club Coffee, a big 110 year old Canadian coffee distributor with help from the Bioproducts Discovery and Development Centre at the University of Guelph. The BDDC developed a bioplastic made from coffee chaff, the skin of the coffee bean that comes off during the roasting process. The filter mesh is also compostable and of course, so is the coffee. They had their pods certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute, a “not-for-profit association of individuals and groups from government, industry and academia is a leading authority on compostable products and has North America’s leading compostable label program.” They claim that after about 84 days “There is usually no visible trace of any part of the pod when it gets the air and moisture found in good large-scale aerobic composting processes.”
This is very different from labelling something “biodegradable” which can take years, and certainly better than “recyclable” which when it comes to tiny complicated things like coffee pods, is ridiculous waste of time and energy to basically assuage the guilt of people buying the stuff.
Lloyd Alter/ pod packaging/CC BY 2.0
The love is not universal. It takes a lot more energy and material to make these pods, a lot more packaging, and they take up a lot more room when shipping. One Guelph environmentalist notes in the sadly now defunct Guelph Mercury, as we have, that “By and large, if you’re looking to be environmentally, socially and economically responsible, single-serve pods are not even part of the equation. You wouldn’t even consider using them.”
The City of Toronto, home of Club Coffee, won’t accept them in their composting program. A company spokesperson told the CBC: “Toronto is saying they don't want to touch it," she said. "With so many of these pods out there, they're afraid of other pods that aren't biodegradable going into the green bin and contaminating it.” The City told the Globe and Mail: “It doesn’t make a difference if the company claims their products are compostable or biodegradable, largely because there is no consistency of production across the industry market.”
Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0
But up here in Muskoka, a lot of people compost themselves, since you have to carry everything to the dump and they count every bag. The people who occupy the fancy second homes on the lakes in summer have the disposable income to spend a buck a cup on their coffee instead of the 26 cents it costs to make it from scratch with the same Muskoka roasted beans. They already own the damn Kuerig machines, so it is probably better that they feed them this.
It still makes no sense, buying an expensive machine to make inferior coffee that costs four times as much per cup. But millions of people are doing it and at least it is getting a bit better. And Muskoka Roastery deserves credit for making the effort.