Sustainability and environmental considerations have filtered through to all industries, including coffee. While initiatives have launched to reduce deforestation, global-warming and over-fishing, a seemingly innocuous everyday item previously ignored is coming under increasing scrutiny from concerned environmentalists and consumers: single-use coffee pods.
In order to keep the coffee fresh, coffee pods (whether Europe’s Nespresso design or America’s Keurig cup) use a dense mixture of plastic or metal in their construction. The result is that they are near-impossible to recycle; very few facilities can process them; and the vast majority of consumers simply discard them in general waste.
The environmental damage presented by disposable machine coffee pods is deemed serious enough that in February of this year Hamburg banned their use from all government buildings to bring attention to the problem. Social movements such as Kill the K-Cup have raised public awareness and consumers are increasingly looking for greener alternatives. The problem is amplified by the sheer global popularity of coffee.
The numbers are mindboggling. It is estimated that the worldwide market for coffee pods was worth $13bn in 2015 and it has been growing at a rate of 15% year-on-year, more than double the 7% market growth rate of coffee itself. In 2014, 9.8bn Keurig pods were estimated to be sold worldwide, enough to circle the planet ten times; and Nespresso were not far behind with estimated pod sales of 9.3bn in 2015 or approximately 177,000 pod coffees consumed per minute. The result is billions of pods, with few recycled and destined for landfill and ocean-dumping.
Indeed, the inventor of the Keurig coffee pod, John Sylvan, expressed regret for his invention, “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.. …They’re going to keep making those little plastic cups forever, because they can’t think outside the box”. Yet one company is doing precisely that.
Bud is the world’s first cardboard coffee pod – entirely plastic and metal-free. Its patented design is fully-biodegradable and its creators believe it’s an elegant solution to plastic and metal pods that can take up to 200 years to degrade.
Dr Hugh Malkin, one of the inventors and CEO of the UK company behind the invention said, “Bud solves the problem of keeping pod coffee fresh without having to rely on the plastic or metal in current designs. It’s a great example of engineering and innovation solving a very real problem.
The challenge was not simply to design a pod that held the coffee but it had to be capable of capturing and preserving the freshness of the whole bean, and ideally starting with the most natural point of the sun dried green coffee bean. This is why current pods use so much plastic and metal – to keep the pre-ground coffee fresh. Any innovation that would ignore the commercial realities of the current pod designs – they work and they’re convenient – would unlikely be adopted by customers. So we had to create a solution that delivered coffee as well as or better than plastic and metal pods and not just rely on the environmental goodwill of consumers.
The Bud design not only preserves the quality of the coffee, it is filled with whole green beans, that are roasted and then ground all with the convenience of a single serve approach. We believe this is a case of being able to have your cake and eating it too, being able to choose how you like your coffee roasted, the aroma, the freshness obtained from roasting whole green beans and a cardboard pod that can be placed into your compost waste after use.
We are at the start of our journey and also aim to take our environmental and social responsibility further by recovering energy used in the roasting to heat the water. In addition we’re keen to look at the logistics of taking the packaging of the whole green beans that go into our coffee Bud close to the sites of the coffee producers or even enabling the coffee producers to grow and package, removing the industrial roasting process and improving the profitability and livelihood for growers and their employees.”
As greater awareness grows around the environmental impact of plastic-metal pods, manufacturers are increasingly forced to find an eco-friendly solution. Keurig Green Mountain, the manufacturers of the Keurig cup has said it will produce a biodegradable cup by 2020 and, no doubt, Nespresso will follow suit. Yet these are likely to require industrial processing and transportation steps. The race is on for a green solution and Malkin hopes Bud will disrupt current thinking and approaches and be one of the frontrunners, “It’s a hugely exciting opportunity with great potential to do good. If manufacturers convert to – and consumers demand – an environmentally-friendly alternative to the current pod designs, Bud can have a massive, positive impact on the industry and the world around us.
We’re entering discussions with investors and industry players to secure the investment to finalise the development and bring it to mass market.”
To find out more visit www.baristaverde.com