img_20160915_154853

Whether you’re an addict or loather, the Coffee Pod is here to stay.

During a trip to Paris, I ordered a single origin brewed coffee from a cafe in the 7th arrondissement. It was not freshly ground and gently brewed to extract flavor from every grain. It came from a capsule. Sadly, this is how most coffee is now prepared in Paris. The grocery stores carry no less than 10 different capsule types, including flavored and decaf. I mistakenly thought France, the champion of cultural preservation, would hold on to a more time honored methodology of brewing coffee. Unfortunately, unlike Italy, it appears standardization and cost-benefit-ratio trump nostalgia.

Paris does have a thriving third wave coffee scene, but the shops can be difficult for tourists to locate when the clock strikes caffeine.

Coutume, which began operations in 2011, was one of the trailblazers in the new wave of craft roasted coffee in Paris. The café has since expanded to include a workshop and tasting room in the 10th arrondissement. The coffee shop is also a great place to stock up on coffee accessories, such as Chemex and Aeropress products.
Another early arrival in the craft coffee movement, Telescope is centrally located between the Opera and Rue De Rivoli.

In most of Paris however, the capsule is still king, and that’s ok, as long as the pod is either biodegradable, or completely made of aluminum or plastic. Unfortunately, most are not. Many people don’t want to pay the higher price for the purely aluminum Nespresso branded pods, so other brands have stepped in, offering an inexpensive alternative. These pods are typically made with a combination of plastic and aluminum, and are almost impossible to recycle due to their small size. An exception being CafePod coffee pods, which are made entirely of plastic, and can be recycled normally with other plastics.

Though it’s easy to condemn the creators and users of encapsulated coffee, the blame is misguided.

Americans consume about 100 billion cans a year, or 340 per person, 10 times more than the average European and twice as much as the average Canadian, Japanese, or Australian. Is anyone made to feel environmentally irresponsible about the soda, juice, and energy drinks they’re swilling? Not really, as long as they’re throwing them in the proper recycling bin. How long has the Coca Cola Company been operating globally without any bold, innovative, environmental initiatives to offset their secondhand waste?

Coffee pods use only 1 gram of aluminum per pod, whereas soda cans use 13 to 14 grams.

What about the environmental impact of disposable paper coffee cups? In America, 54% of the population over the age of 18 drink 3 cups of coffee every day. This coffee is mostly consumed from “to go” cups which can’t be recycled due to their thin protective plastic lining.

Despite France’s embrace of the environmentally questionable capsule, it does lead Europe in it’s commitment to environmental initiatives, and that includes how closely they’ve worked with Nespresso, who maintain over 5,900 collection points in their boutiques, in the community, at Mondial Relay points, and at waste collection centers.

Since 2014, as part of “Project Metal”, Nespresso is encouraging the collection of small aluminum packaging within the French national packaging recovery system by paying cash incentives for every tonne sorted.
Germany follows closely behind France in its own green initiatives with the city of Hamburg introducing a ban on buying “certain polluting products or product components” with taxpayers’ money. The ban includes specific terms, singling out the coffee capsule machine, which accounts for one in eight coffees sold in Germany.
“The capsules can’t be recycled easily because they are often made of a mixture of plastic and aluminum,” adds Jan Dube, spokesman of the Hamburg Department of the Environment and Energy.
Jens Kerstan, Hamburg’s senator for the environment, said that the move, which is part of a bigger environmental drive, sends out an important signal. “With an annual purchasing power of several hundred million euros, the city can help ensure that environmentally harmful products are purchased less frequently.”

There are environmental leaders out there, creating pods that are not harmful to the environment. Rogers Family Coffee sells biodegradable pods, and Canada’s Club Coffee, Dean’s Beans, and even *Wolfgang Puck make a range of fully compostable coffee pods.

Nespresso deserves to be included as an ecological leader in the field of capsule coffee as well, because they’ve made considerable efforts to minimize the effect of its product on the environment.

Nespresso runs its own recycling program, where it picks up used capsules for reuse. A company spokesperson said that it has in place the capacity to recycle over 80% of used capsules, with 14,000 dedicated capsule collection points in 31 countries, and it is aiming to increase its capacity to collect used Nespresso capsules to 100%, wherever the company does business.
This is a groundbreaking initiative rarely taken by most large corporations to take full responsibility and ownership of the secondhand waste their company produces.

*Wolfgang Puck’s coffee pods are awaiting certification of complete compostability.