Our fast coffee addiction

My thesis supervisor and I were having a conversation over coffee this week. His conclusion was that good science is fuelled by coffee, good coffee. I try to drink tea most of the time because I think that drinking five cups of coffee a day is a bit of an overkill, however I do love a good cup of coffee. There are a couple of topics that can be discussed when it comes to having a more sustainable cup of coffee but today I want to discuss the home made coffee. In 2001 Philips reinvented the coffee market with their pad system. For the first time you were able to make just one cup of coffee tin the flavour you wanted in only a few seconds. This first generation pad machine was quite harmless, the pads were made from paper and you could buy big bags of them which didn’t cause to much garbage. Philips has kept this trend of little packaging with their Sarista and Saneco lines. Over the last decades however other brands have also entered the market, in a less sustainable fashion. These brands like K-cup (1997), Nespresso (2000) and Dolce Gusto (2006) seem to advertise luxury coffee, but the amount of plastic or aluminium they use is shocking. In this blog I want to bring the pollution of ‘fast’ home made coffee to your attention and as usual I will give you some tips on how to reduce your footprint.

The video above is a news report by Al-Jazeera which points out the enormous pollution caused by America’s favourite, the K-cup. A huge problem which is caused by the use of cups or pods is that they are made from plastic or aluminium. The K-cup for example is not recyclable and will most likely end up in a landfill. Needless to say the cups are not made from recycled plastic which means fossil products are depleted to create them. When considering the 2015 revenue of 9.8 billion packs this absolutely is a huge problem. Keurig inventor John Sylvan reportedly feels very bad for inventing the K-cup because it is so unsustainable. The next company who is making a good effort to pollute the planet with plastic cups is Dolce Gusto. I could not find any articles on this specific systems, but a couple of years ago I bought one for my mom because her Senseo was broken. The cups are made from plastic and if you open one, there is only a tiny bit of coffee accompanied by more plastic. Because of foil and filters the cups cannot be recycled, only if you chose to tear each one apart which costs a lot of time. The worst thing is that for cappuccino you need two cups, and so the horror continues. There was a short trial in which you could send your cups back for recycling in 2019, but for some undisclosed reason it is unavailable for a couple of months now. Last but not least is Nespresso. The Swiss brand may even be one of the most polluting since their cups are made out of aluminium as shown in the video below. To manufacture aluminium cups a lot of energy is needed, it may seem luxurious but in the end you pay a lot to pollute the planet. Nespresso states that they recycle aluminium, but according to the Guardian Nespresso refuses to give any details on how much aluminium is exactly recycled. All we know is that the company sold more than 27 billion aluminium cups world wide in 2020. Even if the figures from the video below are correct this means that 6.75 billion cups go to a landfill. Even though these companies do not have their priorities straight I am not urging you to throw your machines out right now, please see my tips below to see how you can make a change.

As I already said, don’t throw out your coffee machines just yet! There are a bunch of companies who make reusable cups for your coffee machine. Keurig offers reusable cups on their webshop and for Nespresso and Dolce Gusto stainless steel cups are available in multiple webshops and on Ebay. I have a stainless steel cup for my moms Dolce Gusto machine and it works absolutely great. I like the fact that you can use the coffee you like while getting the perfect crème layer. The best thing of all is that you can even reuse your coffee as fertiliser in your garden. The cups may seem expensive at first but in the end your coffee is way cheaper and you produce no waste, a win win situation!

If you want to skip the hassle of filling reusable coffee cups you can also look for a new machine (make sure to recycle the old one). I have a Philips Sarista, which I bought pre-owned, and I only need to buy the beans I like. You can switch the bean baskets so you can switch flavours as easily as with a cup, only you produce way less waste. If you have some money to spare you can also buy an expensive espresso machine which also only needs beans which you can buy in large quantities and thus less packaging.

All of the above options are very quick, but you might want to consider the ‘old fashioned’ way. When I first moved into my student apartment I had a French press and a bean grinder. It takes a bit more effort to make your coffee but it tastes really nice. Out of all options I think this might be the cheapest. Another option is just making good ol’ filter coffee, just make sure the filters are made from recycled paper.

I hope you guys enjoyed the post, I am going to grab myself a cup of Joe now!



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