A major topic of conversation within the coffee industry these days is sustainability. Everybody across the coffee supply chain is adopting sustainable practices from farmers and manufactures, to roasters and coffee shop owners.
In today’s article we are going to discuss the role of the coffee capsules in the effort of making coffee more sustainable. So, if you’re reading this because you want to know which coffee capsules are best for the environment then you’re in the right place!
What we will cover:
- Brief history of coffee capsules
- Why have coffee capsules become so popular
- How can coffee capsules be sustainable
- Different types of capsules
- How do coffee capsule brands compare
- Which type of capsule is more sustainable
Brief history of coffee capsules
In the mid-1970s, Swiss coffee lover Eric Favrehad joined Nestlé’s packaging department and was working on making good quality espresso affordable in every home.
During a trip to Rome, he visited Café Sant’Eustachio and closely observed the process of making espresso. He quickly realised that the secret was the increased presence of oxygen in the water that filtered the espresso.
After that he was quick to invent the espresso capsule: a shell that holds all the aromas of coffee together and allows steam and water to pass through it with great pressure, so that the extraction yields the best possible result.
However, despite his pioneering idea, Nestlé initially did not share his vision: the first espresso capsules were not released until 1986. Today, around 40% of US consumers use them, while in the UK, nearly a third of households own a coffee capsule machine.
Why have coffee capsules become so popular
There are actually quite a few reasons why coffee capsules are such a success:
- The whole brewing process doesn’t take more than a minute
- You don’t need any special or expensive equipment to make your coffee
- You don’t need to worry about ratios, grinders and timers
- You get the same result every time
- They are not tied to roast-by dates
- You don’t have much cleaning to do after using them
As you can tell they offer some pretty good benefits like speed and consistency plus they are inexpensive. But what about the coffee quality?
According to Grant, “the quality of capsule coffee has improved, pushed by coffee companies sourcing exceptional green beans.
These specialty beans are graded at a minimum of 80 points out of 100, meaning they have superior flavours, aromas, and mouthfeels, but they can score much higher. Coffee graded as specialty can also, in theory, result in higher prices being paid to coffee farmers in the form of quality premiums.”
Sounds like a win-win, right?
How can coffee capsules be sustainable
For some reason coffee capsules are perceived to be harmful for the environment. However, recent studies have shown that they have a better carbon footprint in relation to other brewing methods if we consider the bean-to-cup journey.
- Need less energy to brew coffee
- Use single-serve coffee which saves on waste
- Offer better water control through the use of coffee capsule machines
- Are more straightforward to dispose of
We have mentioned in our sustainable coffee packaging post that for coffee packaging to not harm the environment and the planet, it needs to be sustainable throughout its entire lifecycle.
This means all its materials should be sourced, produced, transported and discarded in a way that’s not harmful for the global ecosystem. A coffee capsule is a type of packaging and can be made from different materials. Let’s find out how these materials compare when it comes to sustainability.
Different types of capsules
Aluminum can be made from 100% recycled materials. It also has a low transportation footprint and it’s very easy to recycle. In general, if you can find coffee capsules made from 100% recycled materials, they’re a good choice for the environment.
Compostable capsules break down much faster than the other materials, but only in specific conditions. These conditions exist in specific facilities where the material is exposed to high temperatures and different bacteria and also aerates the materials for sufficient oxidization. Even though they are a great solution, unfortunately there aren’t many such facilities, the industry is just not there yet.
Plastic has a small carbon footprint when it comes to transportation, but a giant one when it comes to manufacturing. Plus, it’s more complex to recycle and if not done right it can be a significant pollutant in our environment, contaminating our ecosystems.
How do coffee capsule brands compare
According to Moskvitch, “the bulk of capsules on the market are plastic, most manufactured by Lavazza, Nestle, Illy, Nescafé Dolce Gusto, L’Or Tassimo and K-Cup Keurig. Some plastic capsules, such as mixed plastic ones by Nestle’s Nescafé Dolce Gusto, are recyclable.
L’Or Tassimo plastic capsules are recyclable, but have to be dropped off at some 180 public drop-off locations around the UK. K-Cups in the US have aluminium tops and are partly recyclable: that is, once you take it apart, you can recycle the aluminium.”
Another catch with the Nespresso capsules is that you have to return them to Nespresso to be recycled at their own factory. The reason being that they are not pure aluminium, they also feature a silicon lining, so they need to be processed differently.
Which type of capsule is more sustainable
It’s not that simple is it? The truth is the industry is not there yet to offer a solution that’s 100% sustainable. However, big steps are being taken towards that direction and if you’re reading this article, then you’re taking one of these steps too.
Our advice would be to look for aluminium capsules as they are 100% recyclable and have the lowest carbon footprint. Plus there is less hassle in trying to figure out how to recycle them as they are only made from one type of material.
To help you get started we put together a list of our recommendations for some of the best sustainable coffee capsules. Now you can enjoy a good cup of coffee and help protect the environment!
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Disclosure: No compensation or free products were received in exchange for writing this review.
My name is Vasileia and I’m here because i decided to combine my two favourite things: writing and coffee. Don’t ever make me choose between filter and espresso, although I do have a soft spot for flat whites. I love travelling around the world and visiting coffee shops but my biggest goal is to visit a few coffee farms, to see where it all starts. Hopefully soon I’ll take you there through my articles.