Gosh, I love coffee. It’s not just an “I must have caffeine” addiction: I really enjoy drinking it. I love the warmth, the roasty aroma, the cultural routine around “meeting for coffee” and the intimacy that brings. At home, I make a latte every morning. We have this gorgeous old Jura espresso machine that cost us a bloody fortune somewhere around 10 or so years ago, and over the years I’ll easily say it’s made 10,000 cups of coffee, give or take a few hundred. 10,000! That’s a lot. And we drink what I would call an average amount of coffee.
During our travels this summer, we noticed in almost every hotel that they had switched out from regular coffee makers to Keurig or other similar “pod” based coffee makers. In a hotel, this makes a certain amount of sense: Folks are there for one night and need quick, easy, coffee. The downside, though, is that unlike “old” style single cup makers that at least had the grounds inside a paper filter, a Keurig is dropped straight in to the garbage where the grounds cannot even decompose properly inside the plastic pod. And there’s a lot of grounds. Here was our Keurig coffee use one morning (the photo is 4 K-cups’ worth of grounds):
I did the messy job of peeling off the foil lids and dumping out the grounds into the compost while we were at this particular location, because we had compost facilities available and if I didn’t, the guilt would have made me crazy. But it’s not easy – there’s a plastic liner inside the cup that makes scooping difficult. The plastic in the cup itself is also questionable in its recyclability – as in, if you do put it in the recycling bin, the recycling facility probably cannot recycle it and it ends up in the landfill anyway. And if there’s no compost or recycling facilities where you are, then that’s that.
But pod coffee makers don’t just show up in hotels. They’re big in homes too, with one company anticipating its pod coffee brewers to reach 35 million homes. Imagine how much coffee that is! I ran a few numbers (the figures I used to calculate are below). If we had been using K-cups or similar for the last 10 years (and not composting and recycling, which most people don’t do), we would have ended up putting 130 kg (286 lbs) of waste into the landfill. Basically, my own body weight – twice. The used K-cups, if stacked one on top of another, would stretch 45 meters in to the air – or about 26 of me, if I were to be cloned and chose for some reason to stand on my own head two dozen times.
We’re just one family. Imagine the collective waste. In 2013, Green Mountain coffee produced an astonishing 8.3 billion of its coffee cups – meaning that 240 million pounds of that waste headed to the landfill. And that’s just one producer out of dozens. The used K-cups would bury your house, your street, your entire neighbourhood.
For the privilege of creating this waste, we’re paying through the nose. Coffee pods cost far more than using regular grounds by a significant amount. A pound of ground coffee ranges from about $8 to $20, with the average around $12. For Keurig, you’re paying $50 a pound. Nespresso? $59 a pound. That’s hundreds of dollars a year.
I get it. Pods make your crazy life easier. And everyone has to have an eco-vice. Right? But if you’re trying to be greener, or looking for a way to save money, then there’s a super, super easy and budget-friendly alternative to disposable pods. Most manufacturers also offer a reusable coffee pod. Keurig (shown at right), Nespresso, Tassimo and others all offer a reusable cup for a very reasonable price (usually about $10.) Pick up two or three, so that you have plenty on hand for your busy mornings. Simply scoop in your (much cheaper, by a lot) favourite grounds, brew it up, then dump the grounds in the compost and give the filters a quick rinse – or chuck them in the dishwasher. They’ll be ready to go in the morning. The planet (and your pocketbook) will thank you.
Data used for calculations: Weight of 1 K-cup (without water): 13 grams on average. Dimensions of 1 K-cup: 4.5 cm high. 5 cm diameter top. 3.5 cm diameter bottom.