Reducing coffee waste


We believe that coffee is one of the finest delicacies the world can offer and whether you have it at home or get it on the go there’s always a great cup of coffee to be had. However, we also understand that coffee consumption can have a huge environmental impact. As part of our attempts to understand just what we can do to reduce our emissions, we did a little research into some of the ways coffee affects the environment and what the UK is doing about it.

Coffee pods

30% of Britons own a coffee pod machine – perfect for a premium quality morning fix. The trouble is that many coffee pods are difficult to recycle. Aluminium coffee pods can be recycled but the way they are made makes it almost impossible to separate the plastic and metal at home, meaning they must be sent to a specialist recycling plant.

Some companies offer recycling schemes but it’s not as simple as throwing something into your recycling or compost bin. For this reason, out of 39,000 pods made every minute, 29,000 end up in landfill. Also, if every person makes just one cup a day on their machine, this adds up to around 7bn waste pods a year just in the UK.

Ways to reduce this number include purchasing compostable pods and disposing of them in a home compost bin or finding out more about the way your pod machine provider recycles their pods.

Coffee grounds

Every year, the UK produces 500,000 tonnes of coffee ground waste which then produces 1.8m tonnes of carbon if sent to landfill. The biggest issue here is that coffee grounds aren’t completely useless when they’ve finished making coffee. Leftover grounds have a variety of uses – from natural fertiliser to energy generation.

Many independent coffee shops offer their leftover nitrogen-rich grounds to customers to be used as compost or plant fertiliser, helping give the grounds a second life and avoid as much harmful carbon being emitted in the process.

Bio-Bean, a company turning old coffee grounds into ‘coffee logs’ which can be used in home fires and energy generation, collect grounds from many Costa stores to help them reduce their emissions. Bio-Bean has also been working with Travel for London with coffee logs already powering some London buses. 

Ensuring that all the ingredients that go into making a great cup of coffee are considered for their wasteful effects is important to reducing overall emissions in the UK.

Coffee cups

Many on-the-go coffee cups can’t be properly recycled because they are a bonded plastic and cardboard combination. This disrupts other recycling streams and must be processed in a specific plant. As a result of this, the UK sends 30,000 tonnes of coffee cup waste to landfill every year, with Brits littering an estimated 500,000 cups a day.

The recycling rate for coffee cups stood at 1 in 400 in 2016 but has since improved to around 1 in 25 cups recycled last year. Specialised recycling points in some popular chain stores mean that fewer cups are deposited in general waste bins on the street, helping to improve these numbers and capture more waste on the high street.

The increased use of bioplastics is also helping to avoid damaging plastic waste, with many new alternatives (such as PLA used in our cups) being completely compostable and recyclable. Bioplastics avoid more fossil fuels being used up for single-use packaging and have a much lower environmental impact when disposed of.


Though there is still a long way to go before the UK can hit its net zero carbon emissions target in 2050, the coffee industry and the government are both making important steps towards meeting this target. In 2018, there were 4,500 new recycling points introduced and 9 more local councils collecting disposable coffee cups in kerbside recycling.

There were also 10 times more waste collectors taking cups to specialised processing plants, allowing more plastic and paper to be recycled overall. The Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group have high hopes that the recycling rate in 2019 will grow from 1 in 25 to 1 in 12 as eco-consciousness grows.

If 2m people in the UK chose to reuse their coffee mug just once a week, it could save up to 104m cups from landfill each year. That’s just a quarter of the people living in London or 3% of the whole UK population. Making simple changes like this and thinking of the lifecycles of everything we consume will help bring our emissions down and protect the future of the planet.

This article was written by Damon Culbert from The Rolling Bean, mobile coffee bars and bikes in the UK.


Reducing Coffee Waste