In Italy, 96.5% of the population drinks coffee daily. Italians have a special relationship with coffee, which is almost intimate, and portioned coffee has further strengthened this bond.
The large amount of coffee capsules used, and we are talking about 5.8 billion in Italy alone, raises questions about their disposal. It is natural to wonder how we can recycle coffee capsules and, above all, how we can do it properly without excessively harming the environment.
There are two possible options: actual recycling, which is now more complex and difficult due to legal and disposal-related issues, or the artistic reuse of these small containers and of coffee grounds, which become an integral part of the virtuous circle of reuse.
Whether these capsules are compatible with Nespresso, Lavazza A Modo Mio or Lavazza Espresso Point systems or not, there is no reason why we should not do our best to help the planet by enjoying an excellent espresso.
Recycling plastic capsules
Today, recycling plastic capsules is still a difficult task, since, unfortunately, they cannot be thrown whole in the plastic waste bin. Although the cup that contains the coffee is made of this material, the same cannot be said for the aluminium tab or, much more simply, for the used coffee contained in them.
It goes without saying that the huge number of plastic capsules used produces an enormous amount of waste. This makes them extremely harmful, and their disposal has become a critical issue.
However, there is a solution, though it requires consumers to make an effort. It is a limited effort, which is largely compensated for by the fact that we’ll be doing the Earth a favour. To recycle these containers, we can separate the aluminium tab from the plastic body of the capsule and, after washing it to get rid of the coffee grounds, we can properly dispose of it in the plastic waste bin.
And the aluminium tab? Similarly, it may be disposed of in glass or aluminium waste containers, in accordance with the provisions of the municipality of residence.
A simpler solution: Biodegradable capsules
However, an even simpler solution to the problem has been found, which is both ecological and fully sustainable, and most companies are now using it: Replacing plastic capsules with biodegradable capsules. These are made with organic molecules that are very similar to plastic and can be disposed of easily in organic waste bins. Therefore, there is no need to remove the coffee grounds from the capsules, as both will end up in the nearest compost bin.
The material used to make these small gems is the same organic and biodegradable compound that large-scale retail chains use to make carrier bags. This compound is used to make disposable dishes, glasses and cutlery which, compared to a conventional plastic lid, can be disposed of in the organic waste bin and not in the unsorted waste.
Coop has adopted this solution. In fact, the supermarket chain has created a line of compostable capsules called Tintoretto, which offers a smooth and aromatic espresso in a container made entirely of recyclable material.
Why not seize this opportunity and make your coffee drinking environmentally friendly? The stylish Fior Fiore Sonata Bianca capsule coffee machine makes it much easier to enjoy an excellent espresso while respecting the Earth.
Not just capsules: recycling coffee pods
Another great way of limiting the pollution caused by plastic capsules, without giving up the pleasure of drinking an intense and strong coffee, is to switch from capsules to pods.
In addition to being compatible with all coffee machines that support this format, the common ESE pod is also fully environmentally friendly, since it can be disposed of in the organic waste just like coffee grounds or tea bags.
Therefore, buying coffee pods allows you to enjoy a real espresso without worrying about environmental pollution.
If we then also add the flavour of organic, fair trade and pure Arabica quality coffee such as that of the Meseta biofair coffee pods, drinking a cup of espresso is no longer just a moment of pleasure and relaxation, but also an effective way to help our planet and the circular economy.
Recycling aluminium capsules
Aluminium is a 100% recyclable material, which is why it is easily and frequently reused. Moreover, a rather large industry revolves around the reuse of this material. As regards the disposal of aluminium capsules, you can go to the collection points of CIAL, the Aluminium Packaging Consortium, which will take care of recycling the coffee capsules made with this material.
The only thing you will need to do before delivering the capsules is wash them carefully, removing any coffee residues that are to be put in the organic waste bin, or reuse them at home for your plants, in a pot or in soil.
The collection of aluminium can really make a difference in reducing the impact of this metal on the environment. In fact, aluminium recycling saves up to 95% of the energy required for aluminium production form the raw material. It is immediately apparent that this small gesture, if repeated by all portioned coffee consumers, will lead to significant savings in terms of electricity and CO2 produced.
Nowadays, a significant number of capsules is recycled. In fact, as of September 2017, more than 2,000 tonnes of used capsules have been collected and included in reuse projects in order to produce new sustainable capsules or household appliances. Recovered aluminium is used not only in the coffee industry but also in many other sectors. For example, the internal parts of a supercar may even be produced using many reused capsules.
In 2017, the situation has continued to improve and the number of capsules that citizens take to the appropriate collection points and dispose of properly has increased even further compared to the previous year, thus showing that the environment is a matter of great concern for citizens.
Household reuse is also a possible solution. The creative recycling of capsules produces excellent results, and sometimes it takes very little to achieve good results.
Interesting and creative ideas for reusing coffee capsules
If recycling alone is not enough, there are also real opportunities for reuse. They require some manual skills, but the satisfaction and awareness that come from helping our planet will be well worth the effort.
If you have green fingers, you can decide to reuse leftover coffee to make homemade compost, so you can fertilise your plants and flowers.
In fact, coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen, an element greatly appreciated by plants that prefer acid soils, such as the azalea, the gardenia or the oleander; but they are also suitable for growing mushrooms.
At Expo, the Polytechnic University of Turin and the University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo presented a rather interesting project aimed at reusing compostable coffee capsules: FungoBox. It is a kind of ready-to-use bag for growing mushrooms at home, which also contains coffee grounds and “organic plastic”. Thanks to the 1,500 kg of coffee grounds collected at the universal exposition, 150 kg of edible mushrooms were grown, which, as experts assure, have more protein, fibre and magnesium than normal cultivated mushrooms.
For example, with a pack of 192 Lavazza A Modo Mio compatible capsules, you can already think of fertilising some plants. In fact, coffee should not be used alone, since it is too strong and harmful for a fragile seedling, but it should be mixed with other substances and abundant soil, so as to create a compound rich in nutrients, but without suffocating it.
You can also use some coffee grounds to make an excellent solution to help strengthen the leaves. By dissolving the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee grounds in a bucket of water, you can create a mixture that will provide the leaves with plenty of nutrients.
Lacking green fingers? That won’t be a problem. Those who have artistic and creative abilities can give new life to used capsules, so that they can be used in housework or for making fashion jewellery.
An aspiring painter could use them as small tempera containers, perhaps matching the colour of the paint to the shade of the capsule. A budding interior decorator, instead, could use them as a material to create colourful, ethnic-style decorative curtains for interiors; it would be enough to press them and tie them together, for a fun and playful effect.
Or a fashion designer could sew them on a fabric to create a colourful accessory with an interesting style, perhaps a bag with a floral pattern or a vaguely Arabic motif that matches the colour of the capsules, also pressed together; or even an artist with some manual skills could obtain some very colourful bells to be hung on a Christmas tree. This last idea might be more difficult to achieve, but it could also ensure the best results. A bell, some iron wire and tempera is all you need to decorate used capsules and make them resonate, it would be appropriate to say, with new life.
As you can see, all it takes is a little bit of initiative and a quick Internet search. There are many ideas for reuse and recycling on DIY websites and on online communities, so it really doesn’t take much to give a second life to pods and to recycle coffee capsules.