In many ways, coffee pods are the poster child for everything that is wrong about our consumer society; disposable chunks of plastic and aluminum made for the convenience of people who apparently don't have the time or skill to boil water and punch down a french press coffee maker. We have been railing against them for years to no avail, as they just keep growing in popularity, the victory of convenience over sustainability.
Now the City of Hamburg is taking a public stand against the pod people; according to the BBC:
As part of a guide to green procurement, the German city of Hamburg last month introduced a ban on buying "certain polluting products or product components" with council money. The ban includes specific terms for "equipment for hot drinks in which portion packaging is used" - specifically singling out the "Kaffeekapselmaschine", or coffee capsule machine, which accounts for one in eight coffees sold in Germany.
"These portion packs cause unnecessary resource consumption and waste generation, and often contain polluting aluminium. The capsules can't be recycled easily because they are often made of a mixture of plastic and aluminium," adds Jan Dube, spokesman of the Hamburg Department of the Environment and Energy.
The pod people have responded with recycling programs where people cart the pods to a depot and they get shipped around the continent so that somebody can try and separate the foil from the plastic from the coffee; that sounds efficient. Supposedly Nespresso has 14,000 pod pickup locations in 31 countries, capable of processing 80 percent of all the capsules they make, but they don't say how many they actually collect. And as a European waste policy officer noted, that's missing the point.
The point with coffee pods isn't about recycling - it's about cutting down on the amount of stuff that we need to throw away or recycle.
Because it takes a lot of energy and work to make those pods and to recycle them. As a Berkeley environmentalist tells the East Bay Express:
"We can get to a cup of coffee dozens of different ways," said Martin Bourque, director of the Ecology Center in Berkeley. "The best way is a large volume of coffee that goes into a cup that's washed and re-used a thousand times, and the coffee goes to compost or mushroom production. That's best-case scenario," he said. "The worst-case scenario is these pods."
Perhaps others will follow Hamburg's example and end this scenario.