How to drink coffee ecologically  and why capsules aren’t the biggest villain in your cup

How to drink coffee ecologically and why capsules aren’t the biggest villain in your cup

BBC

BBC General

Posted on 1/19/2023 4:04 PM / Updated on 1/19/2023 4:04 PM

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A person preparing a cup of coffee using a plastic capsuleGetty Images The environmental impact of a cup of coffee depends on how it’s brewed, new research shows

When it comes to brewing a cup of coffee, capsules have a reputation for being bad for the environment as they are often difficult to recycle.

However, new research from the University of Quebec, Canada, suggests that pods may not be as harmful as brewing coffee in a traditional coffee maker.


The study offers new insights into the climate impact of the world’s most popular beverage: an estimated two billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day. The average American alone drinks three cups a day.

Although coffee is prepared in a variety of ways, coffee pods have grown in popularity since their invention about four decades ago. The market value of this product increased by 24% from 2021 to 2022. Companies in the industry raised US$12.33 billion (Reais 63.9 billion) last year.

Despite their popularity, pods have long divided coffee drinkers who are aware of the environmental impact of the habit.

The small plastic or aluminum capsules have been criticized for using too much energy during production and causing “unnecessary waste” of materials. The city of Hamburg even banned their use in government buildings in 2016.

However, researchers now say that capsules may not be as harmful as other ways of brewing coffee, especially when you consider the broader “life cycle” of a single cup of that beverage.

The climate effect of coffee brewing methods

The Canadian study reviewed research on coffee consumption published in recent years. The authors measured the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated by each method during the brewing of 280 milliliters of coffee.

The analysis took into account the entire process from the production of the coffee beans (the part that emits the most greenhouse gases) to the amount of waste that ends up in a landfill.

Depending on how the coffee was prepared, the result was slightly different. Researchers also looked at emissions from using more coffee than needed — a common problem since most people don’t measure the amount when brewing.

Those responsible for the survey also analyzed the disparity in emissions between the Canadian provinces of Alberta the second largest greenhouse gas emitter in Canada and Quebec, which has the lowest greenhouse gas rates in the country.

The study found that conventional filter coffee produces the highest amount of greenhouse gases. This is because the amount of ground coffee needed to brew one cup is greater, as is the energy consumption to heat the water and keep the drink hot.

Next, the method with the second highest emission rate is the French Press, also because of the amount of coffee it takes to brew a single cup.

Capsules are third on the list. The amount of coffee in each unit is controlled, which prevents excessive consumption each capsule saves between 11 and 13 grams of coffee, according to the study.


Photo of a person pouring a cup of espresso into a small mugGetty Images The environmental impact of a cup of coffee depends on how it’s brewed, new research shows

According to the study, instant coffee is the most environmentally friendly way of preparing coffee because it uses less coffee and kettles use less energy than conventional coffee machines.

“Paradoxically, this type of coffee does not follow the current consumption trend in North America,” says Luciano Rodrigues Viana, one of the authors of the study.

How to drink coffee with minimal impact on the environment

One thing that coffee lovers cannot control is the amount of emissions produced by the production of that bean.

“The agricultural phase is the most polluting,” assessed Viana.

Regardless of how coffee is brewed, the harvest and production of the beans accounts for 40% to 80% of emissions, as the cultivation of this crop involves intensive irrigation in addition to fertilization and pesticides.

Because of this, coffee pods aren’t as harmful as using more coffee than it takes to brew a single cup — despite the perception that pods are more wasteful at home.

“I don’t think the capsules are a miracle cure,” Viana said. “But this is a good example that illustrates our cognitive biases.”

Considering the life cycle of a single cup, Viana advised people to drink smaller amounts of coffee. That means opting for espresso from 50ml to 100ml, or making sure that only the necessary amount of coffee and water is used in the preparation to avoid waste.

The researcher also drew attention to excessive consumption when using capsules, since the simple preparation with coffee capsules can encourage drinking more cups, which ultimately produces more waste.

“Reusable capsules are a solution to reduce the amount of waste when used for a long time,” he added.


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