retail me not: disposable coffee, disposable consumerism

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Earlier this year, I decluttered my coffee machine.  It was a cute little machine, I wanted to go more minimal and stick with using my french press.  A french press doesn’t require filters, so not having to buy filters was a bonus, but I will admit to not loving the process of cleaning the french press.  It is easier to ignore having to clean a drip coffee machine – a french press has to be cleaned each and every time you make coffee in it.  But I digress, I had gotten rid of the coffee machine and was happily making do with making my morning java in the coffee press.

In the past month, I’ve been introduced to the single-serve coffee machines and all the benefits they tout.  A friend recently purchased a Keurig machine from a large retailer in town, and upon visiting their house for a couple of dinner parties, I had the opportunity to try out the coffee.  I’ll admit, the coffee is pretty good.  But the packaging, oh, the packaging.  The grounds for each coffee is contained in a single-serving plastic container with a foil lid.  And the plastic is non-recyclable.  Now, I did not give my friend a hard time for choosing such a non-sustainable coffee maker, but I personally would not choose to purchase a coffee maker like this, no matter how tasty the coffee.

Last week, I visited a friend’s house for a playdate with the kids and she mentioned her husband had purchased a brand new coffee machine, a Nespresso Pixie.  Is this thing ever cute.  And the coffee that comes out of it… divine!  My friend gave me the sales pitch on it and served me a delicious cappuccino while she described its capabilities.  I questioned whether the capsules that hold the coffee grinds and make the coffee making so easy and mess free were recyclable.  She said, yes, the pods are recyclable as they are made of aluminum (like a pop can) – so you can elect to either clean the pods yourself and pop them into your recycling container, or you can return them to your local Nespresso dealer for recycling.  Huh.  As good as it all sounded, there is quite a lot of  plastic packaging that comes along with all the tiny little Nespresso pods.  Also, although the greenwashing of the Nespresso brand is quite thorough, it appears that only about 25% of used Nespresso pods are recycled globally.  Even worse, Nespresso’s Pro Capsules are made of aluminum bonded with plastic and are, as such, non-recyclable.

One of my main pursuits in adopting a minimalist lifestyle is to create less waste.  And, as sexy as these coffee machines are, I won’t be buying one.

(did I mention that George Clooney is a spokesperson for Nespresso?)

And as delicious as the coffee is that comes out of those things, I won’t be spending my husband’s hard-earned money on one.  The financial cost of single-serving coffee is enough of a deterrent (the machines themselves are quite expensive), but the environmental cost of single-serving coffee is abhorrent and I’ll be avoiding it at all costs. Grinding coffee beans in my own grinder once weekly is not an unpleasant enough task to warrant purchasing a coffee machine that will do it all at the touch of a button.  The most environmentally sound cup of coffee is one that is made from good ol’ traditionally ground coffee beans, prepared in a pot, and consumed out of a reusable cup.  Still delicious, and guilt-free.

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9 responses »

  1. 2 yeasr ago at Christmas, a family member brought their machine to show and give us a taste. Was it ever good! he cost scared me.
    I love espresso and a good creamy cappuccino… in recent years I have resorted to instant coffee at home and I will buy the TH coffee on the road. When I was reading how you grind your coffee, I remembered that I have a coffee grinder and a percolater that makes very good coffee. Yes, it needs to be washed, but the smell worth it. I think I will try to go back to this over a next few weeks, although our mornings are rushed and crazy right now.

    • Isn’t the coffee good? It’s too tempting, but I’m staying strong! I find that a using a french press does take a few minutes longer than just turning on a machine, but not much – I just get busy with something else for a few minutes, and voila!

  2. If I had a bit more resolve I would go back to the French press. Delicious coffee and so cheap! And just having a Bodum saves a lot of space.

    That said, I am hooked on Nespresso. I got my machine as a baby shower gift and it truly was the most useful thing for me for life with a newborn. I stored our Canadian machine when we moved to the UK and bought a UK one. The pods are actually quite a bit cheaper here – even with shipping. And with no Starbucks here I haven’t even had a ‘real’ coffee out since we moved over.

    But the packaging… ridiculous. At least I can recycle the pods.

    Great writing here, Erin. Fun to check in and see how you are doing. Impressive!!

    • Yeah, those Nespresso are pretty darn sexy. But I’m still holding out. I stumbled upon the Nespresso cafe at Sears last weekend and even though I hovered around hoping someone would offer to brew me a cup of java, it never materialized. Needless to say, I never got a sales pitch and I’m taking that as a further sign that I’m not meant to own one. 🙂

  3. Hi Erin. I was a little bit confused when you mentioned the excessive packaging that comes along with the nespresso pods. They come in long tubes that fit ten capsules each and are made of cardboard so that can also be recycled. There is no plastic accompanying the capsules contrary to what you wrote in your post. Granted, the Pro capsules are probably a bit different of a story but the ones that would work in the Pixie are plastic free.

    If you are concerned about the packaging issue or the recycling issue, you can always purchase plastic reusable pods and fill with your favourite coffee (may I suggest some 49th parallel or anything sold at Revolver?) which also helps to bring down the cost of each espresso shot.

    • The plastic packaging I was referring to is part of both the Keurig and Tassimo disposable coffee systems. Both the Keurig and Tassimo pods of coffee are plastic, and the pods come in paper boxes. Strangely enough, the Tassimo pods have 3 layers of packaging – plastic pod, paper box and plastic/aluminum foil wrapper. The point I was trying to make with this post is that it is entirely possible to have coffee without creating a ton of waste per cup – even though the aluminum pods that house the Nespresso coffee are recyclable, not a lot of those pods end up being recycled so they end up in the trash instead. I do know that the Keurig coffee systems have a refillable/reusable plastic pod, so that does seem to be the next best option at this time.

  4. Hi! I am super late to this party, but I wanted to share my horror with the realization of how much waste accompanies a Keurig (or any other pod-coffee machine), and what we did to minimize the waste from ours. My husband purchased a Keurig for me for my birthday last summer. We reuse the pods with ground coffee and “my k-Caps” (eBay). You can toss or recycle the little aluminum lids, then compost the used grounds, and wash the little k cup with a gentle brush and air-dry. When it’s dry, fill it with fresh grounds, add the reusable plastic lid, line up the hole with the little puncture spot (so there’s always only one hole in the cup), and voila! We keep the clean empties in a bowl next to the coffee maker and keep a bowl next to sink for “used” cups that need to be washed (without lids on them, they dry out without getting moldy, which makes it easy to get the grounds out and into the compost container). Sometimes I use my French Press – the Keurig doesn’t make very strong coffee, and nothing compares to a fresh cup of French Press, but we’re so rushed in the morning that the (modified!) Keurig routine suits our day-to-day lifestyle well.

    Also: just found your blog (I’m in my first P333) and I love it! Great tips. Enjoying it very much!

    • It’s scary how much plastic some modern conveniences use. It’s great that you’re reusing your plastic K-cups – if you are interested in a plastic-free option, a company called Ekobrew makes a reusable, stainless steel “K-cup” that would be an option to your reusing your plastic K-cups. Thanks for your comment!

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