The Coffee Conundrum / by Dakota Park

Coffee any time at the convenience of popping in a pod or stopping in at the Starbucks located at every corner is a modern convenience we are all too accustomed to. But what is the cost of this daily indulgence? 

In pod we trust.

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The single-serve coffee pods seemed great on the surface. Many years ago, before they became so prevalent, the convenience was praised, and the waste was thought about little.

At the offices of SUSTAINABLE.TO we initially saw these pods as a way to eliminate waste. We bought the single serve Nespresso machine to prevent unconsumed coffee from going down the drain (what some would see as a cardinal sin). They also seemed to use just the right amount of coffee grinds, with none going to waste. Being in the architecture business, we equated this to modular prefab construction – building the right amount of house in a factory, so that there are no scraps or waste going in the garbage. 

As it turned out, the pods are more like tract housing, not built to last, and not built with the environment in mind. We now have evidence of the sheer amount of garbage that these little pods can produce.  

Reports vary in number, but it is reported that pods thrown away each year could circle the globe more than 10 times. Canadians alone drink 2.8 million pods per day. The creator of the Keurig has even come out as regretting his decision to unleash the device on the world.

The Nespresso pods themselves are made from aluminum and touted as recyclable. All you had to do was return a bag of moldy coffee pods to the drop-off location! Needless to say, we neglected this task, and either ended up with a huge pile of pods, with some inevitably ending up in the garbage. That was coupled with the lack of transparency on the recycling of the pods.  Where did the pods go once we dropped them in that bin? How much of the content was being recycled? Were they being recycled at all?  The answers were nowhere in sight.

 

The mug is mighter. 

We had to rid the S.TO office of the pods.  After brewing the final one, the machine was sent to Value Village. (As bad as the pod is, throwing machines away is worse).

We reverted back to our original coffee machine that was purchased at the inception of the company in 2009 for $15. It still serves us well. The machine is a carafe that acts as a thermos. The thick insulated walls retain the heat for hours without using electricity. This is the way that SUSTAINABLE.TO designs homes – with high levels of insulation to keep the heat in and cold out without continuously burning energy. This is also known as the Passive House model, which harkens back to a time before mechanical heating and cooling – a time when the architecture did the work.

 
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Keep the cup.

The world seems to sweep under the rug the use of the cardboard cups that so often get thrown out – lid and all.  These days the pods get all the bad press, but is it not worse to throw away a coffee cup than a pod?  

The disposable coffee cup is like a developer model tract home. Made once at the cheapest possible cost, and then thrown away to make room for the next one.

No one has been able to develop a recyclable coffee cup that can be utilized by the large chains on a massive scale. Until they do, we have banned disposable coffee cups in the STO office, and issued each employee a “Keep Cup.” It just makes sense.

 

The future brew. 

We have a new coffee machine on order that we hope to surpass all of its predecessors in sustainability. It is the Orenda coffee machine, that uses only the amount of grinds that each person inputs into their profile. There are no pods, no hot plates, no disposable cups, and no waste. Being a start-up company, the jury is still out on if the claims of this machine will ring true.  So we will save that for another post.  In the meantime, I’m off to have a coffee. Just don’t talk to me about instant.

 

 

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