German city becomes the first in the world to ban single serve coffee

March 4, 2016 0 By Amanda Giasson

Hamburg just got a little more eco-friendly by banning K-cups and other coffee pods in public buildings.

Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, is working on reducing its waste and energy consumption by banning the use of single serve coffee pods in government-run buildings, including offices, schools, universities and other institutions. This eco-friendly decision will help to reduce the number of pods that end up in landfills in Germany, which is significant considering it is estimated that Germans use about three billion pods, annually.

Aside from no longer being able to use coffee pods, city employees must follow other green guidelines.

Aside from taxpayers’ money no longer being spent on city employees using K-Cups, Nespresso or other coffee pods, the mandatory green guidelines that have recently been introduced also prohibit taxpayers’ money from being spent on chlorine-based cleaning products, patio heaters, air freshener, non-refillable plastic bottles, and plastic cups, plates and cutlery.

Jan Kerstan, Hamburg’s environment senator, said that the city wants to encourage businesses and private individuals to take greater responsibility for their purchasing decisions. The move was made to promote sustainable procurement.Single Serve Coffee - Coffee Beans and Grounds

“Our objective is to increase the share of environmentally friendly products significantly, in order to help combat climate change.” Kerstan stated.

Some single serve coffee producers argue that their products are recyclable

A spokesperson for the Hamburg Department of the Environment and Energy, Jan Dube, told NPR that, to his knowledge, “most of the capsules can’t be recycled easily, because they are often made of a mixture of plastic and aluminum.”

However, according to Nespresso, the most popular coffee pod provider in Europe, more than 80% of its used capsules can be recycled, and the company is aiming to make its capsules 100% recyclable by 2020. K-Cup maker Keurig, also plans to make its pods 100% recyclable by the same year.

Nespresso told NPR that many of its pods are taken to aluminum plants for reuse, along with the rest of Germany’s domestic aluminum waste (ex. soda cans, etc.) That said, Nespresso was not able to provide details regarding the percentage of used pods that were actually recycled, either in Germany or anywhere else.

Be that as it may, Nespresso argues that decreasing the amount of coffee and water used per cup has a much larger impact on carbon footprint than packaging; particularly packaging that is made from aluminum.
However, if the “Kill the K-Cup” ad campaign, which claimed that enough of K-Cups were discarded in 2014 to circle the Earth over 10 times, is true, it is hard to imagine how single serve coffee pods, as they exist now, could be, in any way, good for the environment. Hamburg may be the first city to reduce the use of these products but is unlikely to be the last.