In the first move of its kind, the Germany’s Hamburg has agreed to put a city-wide ban on capsule coffee from the likes of international giants Nespresso and Keurig in government-run facilities and buildings. The city’s Guide to Sustainable Procurement, released early 2016, cited “unnecessary resource consumption and waste generation” caused by the single-serve pods as their reasoning for the bold move that made international headlines this month.
Largely made from plastic and aluminum, coffee capsules have been riling up environmental activists for some time now, with the inventor of Keurig’s K-Cups himself admitting he’d wished he’d never come up with them in March 2015. Despite pledging to make 100% of their products recyclable by 2020, however, Keurig insists that the current method is the best way to keep the coffee fresh and the most efficient way to achieve a single-cup brew. Meanwhile, Nespresso cites similar reasoning and has reiterated its global recycling schemes which have the capacity to receive 80% of used capsules with 14,000 capsule collection points in 31 countries, also aiming for 100% by 2020. Nespresso’s statements on the controversy also point to the single-cup brew as saving water, coffee and electricity, reducing the carbon footprint per cup.
It is important, however, to note that both Nespresso and Keurig have made much-publicized commitments to the Fair Trade movement, with Nespresso particularly taking pride in their commendable work with coffee farmers across the world. Interestingly yet, the face of Nespresso, George Clooney, has notoriously come out to admit he’s spent most of his earnings from the brand ambassadorship to fund a satellite on the borders between South and North Sudan to keep tabs on Omar Al-Bashar, meaning the brand has more than its share of activism credentials.
Despite the single-cup coffee capsule phenomenon being largely hailed for their disruption of the coffee market – “Coffee pods make up one third of the €18bn (£13.9bn) Western European coffee market… and while the coffee market in general is growing at 1.6% a year, capsule sales are outstripping them, growing 9% a year since 2011.” Both Nespresso, Keurig and their capsule coffee rivals are vulnerable to newcomers ready to capitalize on the bad publicity; at least four independent brands are already producing compostable and biodegradable coffee pods compatible with both brand’s machines.