Aluminium Coffee Pods & The Impact On The Environment


Coffee capsules have been gaining in popularity over the past decade. Coffee pods are convenient and perfectly congruent with the quick-paced modern coffee consumption trend. According to a 2018 study, coffee capsules now make up 17% of the UK coffee market. The capsules are easy to use, quick to set up, and consistently prepare unforgettable morning fixes. Despite the time saving brought about coffee pods, they are plagued by major controversies, including the disastrous environmental impact as well as potential health hazards.

This article will focus on aluminium coffee pod’s environmental impact, from recycling programs, to production, to energy use required to prepare the materials.

Aluminium Coffee Pods are Hardly Recycled

Coffee pods have been increasing in popularity for several decades but unfortunately, during that time, major producers of aluminum pods have failed to address the sustainability of their products. 

To put it into perspective, studies estimate that there are 1 billion coffee pods being produced every single year and from these millions of capsules, it is reported that up to 95% of them go straight to the landfill each year. 

Although there are efforts to encourage coffee-lovers to recycle the pods that they are using, there is not enough public awareness being raised. With coffee capsules taking over 500 years to fully decompose, you can see how this can be a problem for a market that is continuing to grow at an exponential speed. 

The biggest pitfall, of course, is that aluminium coffee pods are not recyclable using Kerbside recycling. This is because they are made up of several layers of plastic and other harmful materials that make them extremely difficult to melt using conventional recycling ovens. As a result, those that own an at-home or office-based coffee machine, cannot recycle their coffee pods easily. 

In fact, when it comes to recycling aluminium coffee pods, there are a limited number of options available. The most widely used option is Nespresso’s recycling scheme, which invites customers to send used capsules to designated collection sites. Here, they we will be recycled by professional equipment designed to break them down. 

The Expensive Cost of Recycling Aluminium Coffee Pods

According to a 2018 report by France Television, separating other materials from aluminium pods is an expensive operation. The process involves using expensive and energy intensive techniques, such as pyrolysis. In addition to the energy intensive nature of processing aluminium capsules, the Nespresso recycling scheme for UK customers also involves transporting used capsules through four countries before the capsule is fully recycled.

First, to the Netherlands to clean the pods, second, Italy to remove lacquer and melt, third, Germany, to turn the melted metal into sheets, and finally Switzerland to turn metal into capsules again. This level of transportation has both economic and environmental impacts.

How Bad Is The Environmental Impact?

The production process of aluminium coffee capsules is wasteful and often involves tonnes of raw materials. Worse still, nothing significant has been done to reduce the amount of waste produced, thus greatly contributing to the worsening environmental impact of aluminium pods.

For one tonne of aluminium produced, four tonnes of waste in the form of mercury, vanadium, chromium, lead, titanium, and arsenic are produced. The red sludge that results from the treatment of bauxite, an ore that produces aluminium, contains toxic compounds that pose health hazards once in the landfill. 

Aluminium processing is also an incredibly energy-intensive activity, and each tonne of recycled aluminium takes over 90% of the energy used to manufacture aluminium. Being eco-friendly doesn't mean reduced amounts of aluminium in the landfill, but also practising energy-saving activities.

Does the Toxic Nespresso Environment Threaten Our Health?

If you love coffee, then you've probably wondered along the way whether aluminium pods could be releasing toxic materials into your coffee cup. Many scientists have conducted studies to determine whether furan, a substance that causes liver cancer and present in aluminium pods, does pose a risk to consumers. According to the French Federation for Sciences of Chemistry, the furan present in coffee capsules does not exceed the allowable daily limits, assuming you don't take more than 4 cups daily.