Action 322: Use reusable or compostable capsules for your branded coffee machine

coffee podsDate: 18 November
Action: 322
Cost of taking action: LOW


Single-serve coffee pods are an environmental nightmare

But nowadays there are improvements – the coffee industry is making it easier for consumers to recycle single-serve coffee pods and reusable versions are available.

If you use a coffee pod machine, please take action to reduce the millions of plastic and foil non recyclable used pods that end up in landfill each year. Even the coffee left inside goes to waste – it could make great composting material!

Recyclable and compostable pods

Reduce waste by swapping over to recyclable or compostable pods.

Regular coffee pods are usually made from plastic or metal or a mix of both. These are expected to take hundreds of years to decompose naturally in a landfill site, and the plastic is toxic of course. Some big name brands (eg Nespresso, Dolce Gusto, Illy) have backed schemes that attempt to make recycling less fiddly.

Currently, although some coffee pods are technically recyclable, you need to dismantle, empty and clean them before you can chuck them into your household recycling bin. The process can be awkward and time-consuming and of course few people bother.

Do some research into what’s available for your own machine, but options include:

  • some pod brands now have recycling schemes, although not always convenient. Some rely on you leaving used your coffee pods at specific drop-off locations for example
  • gadgets like the Dualit EcoPress enable you to empty your used capsules of coffee grounds so you can rinse and recycle the aluminium in your regular recycling bin
  • Podback, launched in April 2021, is a not-for-profit organisation created by NestlĂ© and Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE). You can recycle used coffee pods through Podback via more than 6,500 Collect+ drop-off points in local stores and other routes to recycling are being developed
  • some brands have totally compostable pods available which can be put into a food waste bin, but check your local council’s rules first
  • some brands work with TerraCycle; used capsules are collected and then the plastic and aluminium are separated out and recycled – the used coffee is turned into compost to reduce waste.

Reusable options

Reusable coffee capsules can be filled up with ground coffee, used together with your capsule machine and then cleaned out to be used again.

This obviously massively reduces the number of pods you power through per week (plus you’ll be able to use any coffee you like!).

Reusable coffee pods are usually made of plastic or stainless steel. They are designed to work with popular coffee pod systems, and will only work with that specific brand of pod machine. You can buy refillable pods for many machines. They are fairly simple to use, although some are a little trickier to seal or to clean than others. The pressure with which you compress the coffee grounds as well as the pressure of the water passing through it can affect the results you get, so finding the best for your machine might involve some trial and error.

Take action

The best option is to stop using coffee pods altogether – a perculator, filter machine or cafetiere all make better coffee. Admittedly they are not as convenient as simply putting a pod in a machine and pressing a button, but reducing our use of plastic and reducing waste is a higher priority in our view.

But if you can’t live without coffee convenience, please switch to recyclable, composable or reusable coffee pods, and help us to:

  • reduce the unnecessary use of plastic
  • recycle plastic and aluminium where we can
  • reduce the millions of pods being sent to landfill
  • reuse the coffee grinds as great compost

Other benefits include

  • reusable pods will save you a lot of money, especially if you are a prolific coffee drinker
  • reusable pods allow you to choose and try different coffees
  • other coffee making methods are more versatile, try different techniques to enhance your coffee experience