German city bans coffee capsules

The German city of Hamburg has banned Nespresso-style coffee capsules from state-run buildings in a bid to reduce waste.

As the BBC reports, Hamburg has introduced a ban on buying “certain polluting products or product components” with council money, including “equipment for hot drinks in which portion packaging is used”. The city specifically singled out “Kaffeekapselmachine”, or coffee capsule machines.

“These portion packs cause unnecessary resource consumption and waste generation, and often contain polluting aluminium,” according to a municipal report. Jan Dube, spokesperson of the Hamburg Department of the Environment and Energy adds “the capsules can’t be recycled easily because they are often made of a mixture of plastic and aluminium.”

German politicians aren’t the only ones concerned about the massive environmental footprint of such a tiny product (6 grams of coffee in 3 grams of packaging). Even the inventor of the popular K-cup single-serving coffee pod, John Sylvan, admitted last year that he regrets his invention, saying “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.”

Arguably the best known coffee capsule manufacturer in the world, Nespresso, used the Hamburg decision to highlight its sustainability efforts, including a recycling programme that has the capacity to recycle over 80 per cent of used capsules with 14,000 capsule collection points in 31 countries.

As many of the recycled capsules in Germany are used to make components for the country’s automotive industry, Nespresso sees no contradiction between the use of aluminium in individual portions and sustainability. “In our opinion, the opposite is the case,” says a Nespresso spokesperson.

But Piotr Barczak, waste policy offer at the European Environmental Bureau, says this is missing the point. It’s not about recycling, he says, but rather “cutting down on the amount of stuff that we need to throw away or recycle.” He adds: “Recycling should be the last resort when tackling waste, not the immediate solution.”


Image credit: Karsten Seiferlin, flickr/Creative Commons

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