This article is part of a series of super easy ways to reduce your single use plastic consumption while reaping a whole bunch of other benefits. Our philosophy on plastic is simple – reduce the use. Which is why we only sell completely plastic-free products like our retro beach towel line. Together, we can make informed choices on avoiding unnecessary plastic use to help prevent it from ending up in the ocean.
My favorite appliance is also a trifecta of plastic reduction in our house: It eliminates a ton of single use plastic, it saves money and it’s tasty. It’s a fully automatic espresso machine called a Jura. It works just like a Keurig: put your mug in the machine, hit the brew button and 30 magical seconds later you have a cup of coffee or espresso. The difference is that the only waste is coffee grounds. As a bonus, during the 10+ years we’ve had it, the $900 Jura saved us $3,000 over the $90 K-Cup brewer.
Keurig Green Mountain and Nespresso (among others) have produced tens of billions of coffee pods since the introduction of single cup brewing machines – enough to circle the planet more than 10 times. That’s a lot of plastic and a lot of aluminum.
Aren’t there benefits to K-Cup type machines?
Like everything, it’s not all negative. The only real way to know what’s the best choice for a healthy planet is to spend the time digging into both sides of an issue. A lot of environmental claims are simply greenwashing – robbing Peter to pay Paul. On this issue in particular, we’ve spent considerable time and while single use coffee pods do save water and electricity, there remains a major environmental problem with K-Cup and Nespresso Pods that makes them one of the worst single use plastic pollutant offenders.
What’s in a pod? Aren’t they biodegradable? Are they harmful?
The K-Cup is made of plastic integrated with a coffee filter, grounds and a foil top which means there’s no easy way to separate the components for recycling. Even if you could, 95% of the plastic is a #7 composite (nonrecyclable in most places) sandwiched in four layers to preserve freshness.
The freshness preservation ability also makes it super strong and very difficult to break down. What’s worse is that most pods advertised as biodegradable end up in landfills where conditions prevent the pods from breaking down as advertised.
It’s also widely believe that plastics in general are not good for human health. What’s more, heating up plastics and bringing them into contact with food increases the chemicals leaching into the food. Many pods are listed as BPA free, but BPA-free doesn’t necessary equate to safe. The risks of heating up plastic and then ingesting the chemicals from it can also put you at risk of things like fertility issues, hormone imbalance, and weight gain.
The Fully Automatic Machines are Crazy Expensive
I know there are skeptics on the health claims asserted above. If you can’t get behind those, hear this – you’re paying $40-$50 per pound of coffee buying it in single use containers. Switching to a fully automatic machine allows you to buy whole bean coffee for a quarter of what the pods cost. A 2.2lb bag of Lavazza Super Crema (my personal favorite for my Jura) is about $20 and lasts me about 30 days brewing 4 cups a day. That's about $0.60/day versus $1.76/day for 4 Lavazza K-Cups. That dollar and change a day savings pays for the machine very quickly.
Ease of Use Comparison
The K-Cup/Nespresso machines and the Jura both require you to fill up water tanks and dump the bin of used pods or grounds. The Jura adds one more step each month, but it’s an easy one. You pop in a cleaning tablet and press the clean button. It requires almost no effort and would probably be something you’d want to do to any machine you drink from anyway once a month.
Coffee Pod Verdict… Go Fully Automatic
Moving away from single use coffee pods couldn’t be easier. I was even able to move my last office of 60 people off of a Keurig machine and on to a large single cup grind and brew fully automatic machine without any hassle. Plus, the coffee tastes way better.