Keen on a pod coffee machine but concerned about the waste problem they can create? Nespresso and Lavazza offer the most scope for disposing of used pods sustainably.
Single-serve coffee pods, made by brands such as Dolce Gusto, Nespresso and Tassimo are the ultimate in convenience, dispensing a perfectly measured dose of coffee at the touch of a button.
They have become wildly popular, so much so that coffee pods were added to the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) typical basket of goods, used to calculate inflation, in 2016.
But these single-serve systems have been causing a growing environmental headache, thanks to their throwaway pod design.
We’ve looked into how easy or difficult it is to recycle or compost used pods by brand and found that some are a better bet than others. Nespresso and Lavazza come off well, while Illy offers the least scope for recycling used pods.
Best compostable Nespresso pods – discover the tastiest eco pods for Nespresso machines
The problem with pods
Coffee pods are usually made from plastic or aluminium, or a mix of both. These materials can take up to 500 years to decompose naturally in landfill.
Some pods may be technically recyclable, but you need to dismantle, empty and clean them before they can go in your household recycling bin, which is fiddly and time-consuming.
Even then, their small size and the range of different types makes them difficult for standard recycling facilities to process.
Pod brands have different approaches to recycling
Some coffee pod brands have set up recycling schemes, but these often come with caveats attached and aren’t always particularly convenient.
Dolce Gusto’s recycling service, for example, is only available to those who buy direct from the Dolce Gusto website.
Tassimo has partnered with TerraCycle to offer a drop-off recycling service for its pods, but drop-off points are so few and far between that in some parts of the country you’d need to drive for hours to reach one.
Compostable pods on the rise
The goods news is that a growing number of smaller, independent coffee companies are bringing out compostable pods.
These are mostly for use with Nespresso machines, but Lavazza also sells a compostable pod, and recently announced plans to make its entire capsule range compostable from September 2019.
Compostable pods are made of biodegradable materials such as corn starch, sugarcane and even thistle, which mimic the properties of plastic and break down over time. They fall into two categories:
- Home compostable pods: These can be put onto your garden compost heap, and most will decompose within three to six months.
- Industrially compostable pods: These need to go in your food waste kerbside collection (usually operated by your local authority, although it’s not available in all areas), and taken to special industrial composting plants which produce the ideal environment and temperature for microbes to break the pods down.
Compostable pods can be very expensive, though, with some costing £1 per pod – whereas it’s just 33p for a standard Nespresso capsule.
Compostable vs biodegradable: what’s the difference?
In order for a product to be compostable, it has to meet a specific EU standard (EN 13432). This includes various requirements, one of which is that after 12 weeks at least 90% of the product should have disintegrated enough to fit through a 2mm sleeve.
Biodegradable materials disintegrate in soil, air and water over time. But there is no set timeline for this term, so a biodegradable material could take many years to break down.
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How the big coffee brands compare for pod disposal and recycling
Here’s how the different coffee pod brands compare:
|Pod system||Recyclable pods?||Compostable pods?|
|Nespresso||Yes, via Nespresso’s scheme||No|
|Nespresso-compatible||Varies between each brand||Yes|
|Lavazza||No||Yes – Lavazza makes a compostable pod, and the whole range will be compostable from September 2019|
|Dolce Gusto||Yes, but only if you order direct from Dolce Gusto||No|
|Tassimo||Yes, but drop-off points are very limited||No|
Nespresso has its own recycling scheme for used pods, and has recently invited rival brands to join the scheme, though there is little detail so far on how this might work.
For Nespresso’s own pods, you can request a special recycling bag from any Nespresso boutique or online, which you fill with used pods. You can then drop this off at Doddle or CollectPlus locations, or at your nearest Nespresso boutique. You can also arrange a free collection from your house.
How and if you can recycle compatible Nespresso pods varies depending on the brand, so check the packaging for details.
- There are a wide range of compostable pods for Nespresso machines, from brands such as Dualit, Eden Project, Halo, Rave, Roar Gill and Rave
- Others can be recycled, either by cleaning them out or via schemes such as Terracycle (accepts L’Or pods)
- Some aren’t recyclable at all, such as Lidl and M&S Nespresso pods, though both brands say they are working on it
The range of compatible pods, and Nespresso’s recycling scheme, means that it’s actually one of the better options.
Nespresso told us that just 21% of pods are collected via its recycling scheme, though, so there is an issue with pods not being recycled, even though it is actually possible.
- See which Nespresso machines make the best coffee: Best Nespresso machines
Lavazza pods are mostly made of plastic, and it doesn’t have a recycling scheme, which isn’t ideal. However, it does have one compostable coffee pod in the range, and has said that the entire range will be compostable from September 2019.
It’s the only major brand to sell a compostable pod for its own machines.
Do Lavazza machines make great coffee? Check our Lavazza coffee machine reviews.
Dolce Gusto pods can only be recycled if you order direct from the Dolce Gusto website. You can get a special collection bag, which can then be dropped off at any CollectPlus point.
An increasing number of compatible pods, made by brands such as Aldi, Asda and Lidl , are available for use with Dolce Gusto machines. None these are recyclable at present, though.
See our Dolce Gusto coffee machine reviews.
Tassimo’s plastic and aluminium pods can be recycled via TerraCycle. You’ll need to take the pods to public drop-off points (more details on the TerraCycle website) run by a network of volunteers.
Some of these locations are more accessible than others, though. There’s only one drop-off point in the whole of Scotland (in Glasgow), and there are none in Northern Ireland. This means in practice it may be difficult for many to recycle their pods without going far out of their way.
Is the coffee worth it? See our Tassimo machine reviews.
Illy has no UK-based recycling scheme for its plastic pods, and there are no compostable versions available.
Nespresso, Tassimo or Dolce Gusto? – compare the popular pod brands on range of drinks, price of the pods and machines, and which ones make the best coffee
What are the alternatives?
Pod machines are undeniably tempting. They make it quick and easy to make a consistently good brew, without worrying about measuring and preparing your coffee correctly.
It’s worth considering the alternatives, though, as with a little bit of practice they can be quick to make tasty coffee, and you can sidestep the accompanying eco guilt. These are:
- Bean-to-cup coffee machines: These can be pricey to buy, but they grind coffee on demand and make your drink for you.
- Ground coffee or pump espresso machines: These use ground coffee that you measure out and pat down, ready for extraction.
We’ve found Best Buy ground coffee machines for less than £100, and Best Buy bean-to-cup machines for less than £300. See our coffee machine reviews to compare models and find the best, and check our video guide to making the best espresso and cappuccino for tips on making your coffee.