Back in 2016 The Grocer reported that nearly a third of Brits owned a coffee pod machine, up 22% on the previous year. That number will likely be far higher now, especially after a lockdown period which saw people clamouring to stock their kitchen with equipment required to recreate restaurant-style dining experiences in their own home.
But while it’s easy to see the appeal, coffee pods are symptomatic of the linear, throwaway, mono-use society that many of us would like to see become circular. Coffee pods are usually made from plastic or aluminium, or a mix of both, and these materials can take up to 500 years to decompose naturally in landfill. Some may technically be recyclable, but require you to dismantle, empty and clean them, which is fiddly and time-consuming. The Independent recently reported that in the UK some 350 million capsules are thrown away every year.
Nespresso may offer a recycling scheme for their pods but it’s reported that only 24% of customers actually use it, partly due to the fact they need to be collected or taken to a collection point. And according to the Clean Ocean Project, recycled aluminium cannot be used for new capsules. In other words, Nespresso capsules are always made from primary aluminium.
While use of more environmentally-friendly compostable pods, made of biodegradable materials such as corn starch, sugarcane and thistle, may be on the rise, these pods tend to be expensive. Halo’s for example, made from 100% compostable sugar cane and paper pulp, work out at 70p per pod, compared to just 33p for a standard Nespresso capsule.
Surely there has to be a better way?
The best thing humans can do for the environment is consume less.
“The best thing humans can do for the environment is consume less,” says Luke Tomlinson, CEO & Co-Founder of Grindsmith, Manchester’s award-winning coffee roasters. “This reduces not only our waste, but also the energy expended in producing a product. Every item requires raw materials to be mined/grown/manufactured, processed, packaged, and shipped, which is quite an energy-hungry, short life for a tiny package of coffee! The energy output of manufacturing is so great, that no single-use item can compare to a reusable product – even if it’s recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable.”
The company has recently developed a Reusable Coffee Capsule, available from August, designed to provide pod machine coffee at home without the environmental guilt. “When it comes to a pre-portioned pack of coffee, reusable capsules get this right,” Luke says. “The more your pod is reused, the more sustainable each cup of coffee.”
Compatible with the most popular Nespresso machines, it took 6-8 months to develop and manufacture the Grindsmith Reusable Coffee Capsule, and 12 weeks to design external packaging. “Researching the correct seals was difficult,” Luke says, “and getting the size of perforation holes correct was crucial, so that we could yield the correct extraction to showcase the best flavour from our coffees.”
The benefits of a reusable coffee capsule extend beyond the environment. You can fill them with your own choice of ground coffee – either pre-prepared or freshly ground at home – which is not only kinder on the planet, but also likely to be kinder on your wallet too. Grindsmith sources their coffee from farms and projects across the three major coffee growing regions, with their Ethiopian and Colombian single origins roasted at their state of the art roastery in the Ancoats area of Manchester.
The company has long been at the forefront of the modern coffee culture in the city, and launched their latest store on Bridge street in January 2019, a 1,600sqft space with a floral mosaic facade, the first of its kind in the UK. Their roastery in Ancoats is set over two floors, and includes an industry-leading Loring Smart Roaster machine – an odourless, flavour-locking roasting system with lower emissions – and tech lab where the development of their reusable capsule took place.
Made with stainless steel and silicone rubber, the capsule is suitable for medium/fine coffee grinds. The kit includes the stainless steel capsule and tamp, along with a measuring scoop and cleaning brush. It is also dishwasher safe. It’s certainly a compelling option, although getting used to filling the capsule properly, and taking the time to clean it after use, may take time to adjust to and somewhat negates the convenience of using pods in the first place. The pressure at which you tamp (compress) the coffee grounds can affect the results you get too, so finding the optimal pressure will involve some trial and error.
⊕ Available to pre-order now, delivery of the Grindsmith Reusable Coffee Capsule is anticipated w/c 3 August 2020.
⊗ Grindsmith, 62 Bridge St, Manchester M3 3BW. View map
All photography © Grindsmith, used with permission.