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Are Nespresso-type coffee capsules compatible with Zero Waste?

The coffee capsules from Nespresso, Lavazza and others have taken over the coffee market in the EU. Normally they are made of fully recyclable materials (aluminium or plastic + coffee grounds) but they are very rarely recycled. Why?

Is it bad design? is it bad take-back systems? Whatever it is the fact is that since the commercialisation of these items a lot more resources go to waste. This means more burden for the environment and more costs for citizens who have to shoulder costs which should be beared by those who introduced this product in the market.

The Cappannori Zero Waste Research Center identified the coffee capsules as the first item to remove from the residual waste after high separate collection has been reached. Indeed, coffee capsules is a new waste stream that was just non-existant only 5 years ago. Now it is yet another source of waste that could be avoided. In 2010 it was estimated that 10 billions of capsules where sold in the world, a tenth of them in coffee-loving Italy. Only in Italy 12.000 tones of capsules (plastic/aluminium + coffee grounds) were disposed of in landfills and incinerators.

The Zero Waste Research Center documented the evidence and sent a letter to Lavazza and Nespresso in which they asked for a meeting to discuss the issue. The companies’ reaction was quick and a meeting was set up not only with the presence of Capannori Zero Waste Research Center staff but also with the italian food industry. In this meeting Nespresso and Lavazza committed to find solutions to this problem.

The companies rightly claim that their products are recyclable (the capsule) and compostable (the coffee grounds), but the problem is that for that to happen the capsules need to be collected and the recyclables sepately treated. The companies have no incentive to do this and the authorities fail to make the producer pay for the waste they put in the market.

Nespresso for instance has a goal of reacing 75% recycling of its capsules for 2013 in the EU but with the current take-back systems and lack of incentives it is unlikely that recycling will go beyond 25%. A good way to make sure that coffee capsules would go back to the producer would be to set a deposit system that would encourage the consumer to get involved in the process. This would be good for the environment, for the consumers and for the local authorities… in the long run it would also be good for the coffee companies who would get back the raw materials but in the short term it is clear that the Nespressos and Lavazzas of this world prefer passing the costs to the consumers and the environment. However, these costs could be internalised only with a fraction of the budget they dedicate to marketing. Only political will is lacking to make polluter pay.

In a Zero Waste world there is no place for disposable coffee-capsules. If capsules are to stay it should be under the condition that the companies set up take-back systems that allow them to recover the coffee grounds to make good compost and the capsule to be reused –when possible- or recycled (not 75% but close to 100% like in deposit systems for beverages). In the meantime there is no better option than taking your coffee in the bar.

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There are 12 comments
  1. Mario

    oppure utilizzare cialde di carta

  2. Do you know NexPod? Find more on!

  3. […] Are Nespresso-type coffee capsules compatible with Zero Waste? […]

  4. Hmm it is really a great post,
    Refillable coffee capsules are eco-friendly as they help in reducing aluminium waste, energy and also the cost of recycling.

  5. Alexandra Wilson

    The diplomatic arm of the EU, the European External Action Service (EEAS), has recently announced a deal to use Nespresso machines in all of its offices, not only in Brussels, but in all the 130 delegations round the world.
    Apart from the complete lack of recycling in many of these countries, it seems ridiculous and wasteful to send nespresso capsules to the delegations in great coffee producing countries, such as Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Columbia etc etc
    Do you have any lobby group in Brussels to alert people to this slightly stupid decision?
    If not, who should be contacted?

  6. Alexandra Wilson

    Sorry, I was mistaken. The EEAS is only going to use Nespresso in its offices in Brussels. Still think that is not a good environmental decision, irrespective of how green Nestle paints its processes: all that aluminium just to make coffee!

  7. […] Waste Europe “Are Nespresso-type coffee capsules compatible with Zero Waste?“ On Maiatza 18th, 2012   /   Sailkatugabeak   /   Idatzi iruzkin […]

  8. Mike

    One thing lost in this debate is the total environmental cost of traditional means of acquiring one’s daily cup of Joe. For instance, making a pot of coffee at home usually for me, means wasting a third of the pot. When I lose the freshness of my beans or grind I tend to throw it out. How much water does that waste down the drain in terms of growing extra coffee beans (water intensive, land intensive), and transportation costs (Africa, Columbia are quite far away) of all that coffee?

    I’ve often heard a barissta is the best way to go, because they don’t waste coffee grind as much and don’t use pods! How much food does that barista require to operate in order to make you a cup of coffee? I think keeping a human going in 1 day is probably the largest source of pollution on the planet. What about all the additional energy employed in operating the store? Last time I checked most of these shops have glass windows to show off the trendy customers that walk into those places thus luring other customers who want to be that trendy or meet other people that trendy to go into them. How much fossil fuels are you burning keeping that place cozy and warm?

    I’m not trying to excuse these companies, indeed I think they should all be required by law to put a 10cent deposit fee on customers and retrieve the pods and recycle appropriately. What I am trying to hilight is the lengths that we will go to in order to drink a luxury item that is not a necessary part of our diet.

  9. I think its important to find a solution to the problem.
    Refillable Nespresso Capsules are also a good alternative

  10. It’s wonderful that you are getting thoughts from this post as well as from our argument made here.

  11. Along with the wonderful taste you get from a nice cup of Nespresso coffee, using capsules is very convenient. The problem is that most people like convenience without responsibility and therefore tend to be irresponsible when dealing with waste or recyclables. It’s very easy to blame a company, but how about taking personal responsibility. It’s very simple to do. Open the capsules, dump out the coffee grind, or use it as mulch in your garden, then recycle the capsules together with your cans and plastics. Oh but wait, that’s too much work for some lazy people. The solution is very simple, recycle your own capsules.

  12. Brendan Riley

    Is there anywhere I can find the different types of plastics used for the different brands for coffee capsules?

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