April 19, 2014

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Joe Woes: The Coffee Industry Promotes Excess & Waste

Single serve coffee containers mean more energy use, more waste, and more environmental debt.

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By Amy Larkin

I have a coffee jones.  I follow all things caffeinated and java-like and I am crestfallen and furious that the newest coffee trend is to use single-serve pods.

We now understand waste, water usage, manufacturing, mining, freight transport, and packaging and their effects on the world. It seems madness to develop a new product line that increases all of the above.

This new product line decidedly lowers a company’s CSR profile. And the companies with strong CSR profiles who develop these products? What are they thinking?     

There is nothing positive about replacing a perfectly fine product with one that uses significantly more packaging, freight, waste, manufacturing, plastic, aluminum, and dyes. If individual fresh cups of coffee are desired, coffee in tea-bag-like devices would do the trick and would be fully compostable.

Life Cyle Costs

The companies and the customers who use these products should have to pay for their environmental impacts up front. These pods now represent seven percent of the coffee sold in the U.S. and 20 percent in Europe. The market is growing rapidly, and the pods are piling up in landfills. Some of them are supposedly recyclable, but to do so is time-consuming and messy.

In fact, these pods are rarely recovered. Even if they are recycled, their production and recycling still waste huge amounts of material, energy, and water. 

So, let’s add up the environmental costs of this totally unnecessary aluminum mining, manufacturing, production, packaging and transport. Then, we’ll add the landfill cost of these pods and charge customers and companies on a pro rata basis for the packaging.

If we calculated the environmental cost of a cup of coffee in a French press, percolator or drip device vs. the environmental cost of a cup of coffee from a Nespresso or Keurig machine, what would be the green mountain coffee podsdifference? I haven’t found an exact calculation, but certainly, the full product lifecycle costs would be consequential as opposed to insignificant. 

Nestlé, Green Mountain Roasters: Bringing Actions in Line With CSR Claims

Nestlé, the parent company of Nespresso, prides itself on its CSR work but somehow there is a disconnect between the high-profit division and its stated goal of Zero Waste to Landfill. Also, I am amazed at the A-list environmental celebrities (i.e., George Clooney, Penelope Cruz) who represent this brand and make this bad consumer choice decidedly sexy.

I am only singling out Nestlé because of its high-profile advertising, which has led this stampede to environmentally-disastrous coffee. Keurig is the market leader, Starbuck’s has recently joined the fray and Green Mountain Coffee makes most of its profits from its single-serve pods. Coffee is vital to my daily well-being -- as it is to so many others -- and I wonder what would happen if the external costs were priced into these pods. They would become even more expensive than they already are.

And perhaps lose their market momentum.

Coffee companies like Green Mountain Coffee, Nestle’s and Starbucks, all CSR leaders, have to match up their product lines to their social and environmental ambitions. Otherwise, it’s just a lot of talk.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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