Sunday, January 22, 2023

Coffee pods, environmentally-friendly? Maybe not

You may have seen a bunch of articles crowing about a study that shows that the carbon footprint of single-use coffee pods is lower than other methods of brewing coffee, including filter coffee, French press, etc. Social media posts like "Vindication!" have proliferated.

The University of Quebec at Chicoutimi study concludes that instant coffee is the most environmentally friendly (but who wants to drink THAT!), followed by coffee pods or capsules, like those from Keurig and Nespresso, which are made from plastic or aluminum. French press coffee is the next best option, although it uses a lot more coffee to produce a single cup. And worst of all is good old filter coffee, due to the amount of coffee needed and the energy required to heat the water and keep the coffee warm.

So, vindication, after years of being pilloried as environmentally inferior? Maybe not. For one thing, the UoQ study is not yet peer-reviewed just a pre-print that the media has latched onto. For another, a peer-reviewed 2021 study concluded the exact opposite, claiming that the greenhouse gases from the pods' packaging and dealing with the waste actually make them a poorer environmental choice. 

Plastic pods like those from Keurig are difficult to recycle and are, after all, a petroleum product. Aluminum pods like Nespresso's are technically recyclable, but Nespresso itself puts the recycled proportion at around 36%. So, fine in theory...

Either way, the coffee we drink is not a major contributor to climate change in the scheme of things, and we have much bigger culprits to deal with (eating meat, anyone?) We can get bogged down in this kind of granular detail, and it can be a dangerous distraction from the bigger picture.

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