Single-Use Coffee Pods May Be Better Than You Think

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When it comes to coffee-making, single-use pods get a bad rap, at least when it comes to the environment. A new study might change that. Canadian researchers have found that the traditional method of brewing coffee in a pot generally has a larger carbon footprint that using a pod, reports the BBC. As they explain in the Conversation, the researchers from the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi looked at the entire picture involved in various coffee-making methods—not just the packaging. Yes, the disposable pods end up in landfills, a strike against them. But brewing in a pot typically uses more coffee, water, and electricity.


“As a consumer, what we’re left with is the visible waste in front of us, and that often tends to be packages and plastics,” Shelie Miller, a professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability who was not part of the study, tells the Washington Post. “But the impact of packaging, in general, is much, much smaller than the product itself.” When looking at four methods of making 280 milliliters (about 9.5 ounces) of coffee, the researchers found that, on average, traditional filtered coffee has the biggest carbon footprint. That was followed by the use of a French press (mainly because less coffee grounds are used), then coffee pods. The most environmentally friendly method: Instant, or soluble, coffee, which produces no “organic waste.”


The order can change depending on human behavior. For example, the convenience of pods might lead people to have multiple cups, which might then wipe out their environmental edge. Regardless of the method used, the researchers point out that coffee production—growing, fertilizing, watering, harvesting, etc.—accounts for up to 80% of the carbon footprint of your morning cup. The scientists also have a parting piece of advice: “At the consumer level, beyond reducing coffee consumption, avoiding wasting coffee and water is the most effective way to reduce the carbon footprint of traditional, brewed and soluble coffees.” (Read more coffee stories.)

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