There are a lot of positive things to be said about Nespresso and their endeavours to make a better world. As part of the Nestle they have a range of sustainability initiatives which are very colourfully displayed on their website. They pay their Sudanese coffee farmers around forty percent more than the current rate conventional coffee growers receive. This has led to Sudan having a viable commodity to export which is very important for an African state.
It also has a product that depends on being packaged in aluminium capsules, and this aspect is where Nespresso quite rightly faces criticisms. According to the popular press, consumers of pod coffee, of which there are many, are starting to feel guilty over drinking pod based coffee because of the sustainability problems.
The Problem with Aluminium Pods
The aluminium pods that Nespresso uses to package their coffee use a significant amount of resources, and practically are hard to recycle. When they hit the landfill, they take around 500 years to breakdown. As such, Nespresso and several other one shot serving coffee suppliers, face a serious sustainability problem.
This was highlighted when a former CEO of Nespresso, Jean-Paul Gaillard, stated that the pods were going to cause an ecological disaster:
"It will be a [ecological] disaster and it's time to move on that. People shouldn't sacrifice the environment for convenience."
Although Gaillard used the same platform to promote his new company that makes biodegradable coffee pods, the sentiment against the pods has been echoed in Germany, where in February 2016 council offices and buildings banned the use of coffee pods and disposable packaging as part of its 150 point green initiative.
Surveys across Europe including the UK tended to side with Hamburg over the issue, such is the depth of feeling against the use of aluminium in coffee pods.
Nespresso has stated time and again that the pods which are made from a mixture of aluminium and plastics are the best material for transporting their one shot of coffee from A to B. The company say that this preserves the freshness of the coffee. They also claim that as only the right amount of water is boiled for a cup of coffee their machines save energy.
This has been disputed, however, from various studies which show that instant coffee is the least environmentally damaging way to make a good cup of coffee.
Hope on the Horizon?
In April 2016, The Guardian reported a story whereby a few coffee companies were making biodegradable and compostable coffee pods. Biodegradable pods will dissolve in air, water, or air overtime, and compostable materials breakdown and return to nature. So they can make soil richer and more fertile.
Early signs indicate that the sustainable pods do not interfere with taste and this could be the game changer the industry needs. That said, like most ethically and sustainable products they cost a bit more to make.
Whether Nespresso starts to incorporate these new pods into its products is unclear. The company never publishes its profits neither does it state how many of its pods it recycles. The only thing that is certain is that the pressure is on Nespresso to deliver coffee to its consumers without guilt.