☕ Rating 'compostable' coffee pods: breaking down their sustainability claims

Which coffee pods are sustainable? And which ones are greenwashing?

Coffee pods have become popular in the last 5 years and they’re now a household item. You might even have made yourself a coffee from one this morning.

But they’re a huge problem when it comes to waste.

Below we dig into claims made by companies selling “compostable and biodegradable” pods, and rate them based on their sustainability promises 👇


Coffee pods: convenient, but wasteful

Coffee pods offer convenience - enticing consumers with cafe-quality coffee for less than $1 a pod. And Australians love coffee pods: over 1.5 million of us have a coffee pod machine in our home.

Unfortunately, coffee pods create a huge amount of waste.

Coffee pods can’t be recycled: they’re made from plastics (the pod), aluminium (the lid) and organic matter (coffee grounds), which make them almost impossible to recycle.

That’s why 3 million coffee pods end up in landfill every day in Australia. Globally, that’s 56 million pods each year. And each coffee pod takes 150 to 500 years to break down.

So, can you find coffee pods that provide convenience without damaging the environment? Can ‘compostable & biodegradable’ coffee pods offer sustainability and convenience?

Let’s find out 👇


Rating compostable coffee pods & their claims

We rated 6 coffee pod brands that claim their pods are ‘compostable’ or ‘biodegradable’.

We rated each company out of 5 based on their sustainability credentials.

Here’s how we rated each company:

  1. How easily can their pods be composted?

    👍 3 out of 3 [Good] - can be composted at home

    🤔 2 out of 3 [Ok] - can be composted in industrial facilities

    😕 1 out of 3 [Needs Improvement] - can be composted, but it’s complicated

    👎 0 out of 3 [Poor] - can't be composted; ends up in landfill

  2. How honest are they with their sustainability claims?

    👍 2 out of 2 [Good] - clear and honest

    😕 1 out of 2 [Needs improvement] - unclear or vague

    👎 0 out of 2 [Poor] - incorrect or misleading (greenwashing)

Before we go on, we acknowledge that pods are inherently wasteful. Using reusable pods or, even better, no pods are more sustainable options.

But, with 1.5 million Australian households using coffee pod machines in their home, it’s important to highlight which pods are doing damage and which ones are trying to make a difference.

Here are the ratings below 👇


Pod & Parcel (2.5 out of 5)

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How easily can their pods be composted?

😕 1 out of 3: can be composted, but it’s complicated

Most people think when something is compostable, it will break down in their home compost or it will break down quickly in landfill. Not in this case.

Pod & Parcel pods can only be composted in special high heat facilities called industrial or commercial composting. Some councils offer industrial composting, but they are rare.

Even if your council does offer industrial composting, you need to remove the lids from each pod (which are made from aluminium) before sending them off for composting (shown below).

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How honest are they with their sustainability claims?

🤔 1.5 out of 2: clear and honest (when you find the right pages)

Pod & Parcel promote their compostable pods as “guilt free”.

But they hide the fact that their pods are only industrially compostable in a small footnote at the bottom of their site. Consumers who don’t understand the difference between industrial and home composting are likely to be misled.

You have to dig deep into their site and find the Pod Disposal Tips or FAQs pages to learn that you have to remove their alumnium lids before composting. When you get to these pages they clearly explain what needs to be done to dispose and compost their pods correctly - for that we gave them 1/2 a bonus point.


Pod Co. (1 out of 5)

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How easily can their pods be composted?

😕 1 out of 3: can be composted, but it’s complicated

Pod Co. pods are only industrially compostable, meaning that your council needs to have organics recycling. Their pods also have aluminium lids, which need to be removed from each pod before composting.

How honest are they with their sustainability claims?

👎 0 out of 2: incorrect or misleading

Pod Co. claim that their pods break down in just 90 days. But they don’t tell the whole truth on how to dispose of them properly.

  1. They hide the fact that you have to remove the aluminium lid - there’s nothing on their Environmental Impact page on this; instead, you have to read the FAQ page to find this out (which is the only place they mention this).
  2. They claim that it’s “possible to dispose of our pods in your home compost” - this is misleading. Coffee pods are not home compostable - they need over 60°C of heat to break down. Home compostable products should come with this certification - which they don't have.

The Pod Lab (1 out of 5)

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How easily can their pods be composted?

😕 1 out of 3: can be composted, but it’s complicated

The Pod Lab uses capsules that are industrially compostable. Similar to Pod & Parcel and Pod Co., their pods have aluminium lids, which you need to remove before composting.

How honest are they with their sustainability claims?

👎 0 out of 2: incorrect or misleading

We found three claims that are incorrect or misleading about disposing their pods.

  1. It can be “recycled”. It can’t. Recycling facilities can’t recycle them because they need to separate the plastic, aluminium and coffee grounds each time. They end up in landfill instead.
  2. All our pods are 100% biodegradable. So you can simply throw them away guilt free.” 'Biodegradable' doesn’t mean anything. The word isn't regulated - there's no time frame in which it must 'biodegrade'. They simply end up in landfill taking years to decompose - there’s nothing ‘guilt-free’ about this.
  3. You can pop them in your compost at home” As we’ve said above, coffee pods are not home compostable - they need over 60°C of heat to break down. Any claims of home compostability should come with this certification - which, again, they don’t have.

Republica (0 out of 5)

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How easily can their pods be composted?

👎 0 out of 3: can’t be composted, ends up in landfill

Republica's capsules are made from oxo-degradable plastics. They aren’t compostable and end up in landfill.

How honest are they with their sustainability claims?

👎 0 out of 2: incorrect or misleading

Republica’s pods are described as being “biodegradable” - which we’ve already mentioned is misleading.

The company behind the technology claims that their plastics break down in nature much quicker than normal plastics. Republica claims that these pods break down within 730 days.

These claims are unproven. A report by the European Commission on oxo-degradable plastics rejected these claims, saying: "there is still doubt as to whether they [biodegrade] fully or within reasonable time periods".


Tripod Coffee (4.5 out of 5)

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How easily can their pods be composted?

👍 2.5 out of 3: can be industrially composted

Tripod Coffee pods are the only industrial compostable coffee pods that are Australian certified (others are European certified). This ensures that local composting facilities can accept them.

They are also completely aluminium free - their pods come with a paper-composite lid, which makes the whole pod industrially compostable.

We’ve given them 1/2 a bonus point for taking the extra step to set up their Pod to Plant program: a simple way that customers can send used pods back to them for composting, especially if their council doesn’t offer organics recycling.

How honest are they with their sustainability claims?

👍 2 out of 2: clear and honest

Tripod Coffee have actively made it easier for consumers to understand why it’s important to compost their pods and how they can compost them.

In addition to their Pod to Plant program, they’ve compiled a database of councils that accept their pods in their organics bin.

The lesson here is that it’s much easier to be clear and honest with your sustainability claims when your products are, in fact, more sustainable.


Urban Brew (0 out of 5)

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How easily can their pods be composted?

👎 0 out of 3: can’t be composted, ends up in landfill

Urban Brew capsules are made from oxo-degradable plastics. They aren’t compostable and end up in landfill.

How honest are they with their sustainability claims?

👎 0 out of 2: incorrect or misleading

Similar to Republica’s pods, Urban Brew describes their pods as being “biodegradable”. They also claim the pods are recyclable, which is false.

Urban Brew’s pods will end up in landfill, and take many years to break down.


Summary

Here are the ratings:

👍 Tripod Coffee - 4.5 out of 5
😕 Pod & Parcel - 2.5 out of 5
👎 Pod Co. - 1 out of 5
👎 The Pod Lab - 1 out of 5
👎 Urban Brew - 0 out of 5
👎 Republica - 0 out of 5

Greenwashing is a serious problem in this space. It’s hard for consumers to cut through marketing jargon from various companies. That’s why we need companies to be more transparent with their sustainability promises.

When you’re selling coffee pods that promise they are “fully biodegradable and compostable”, you have a responsibility to back up your claims. Otherwise, you’re adding to the problem.


What can you do?

  1. Use reusable pods or, even better, avoid pods altogether.
  2. If you can’t do without pods, go with Tripod Coffee.
  3. Share this with friends and family who use coffee pods. Your impact grows when spread the message.

 


If you’ve read this far, thank you.

We're here to make sense of sustainability and help you be better informed.

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