Are Coffee Pods Sustainable? Minimize Your Impact

Coffee and sustainability go hand in hand. After all, if global crop production is affected by poor weather from climate change, over-farming that leads to poor soil quality in otherwise fertile land or too much plastic entering our water supply, it can spell trouble for coffee drinkers around the world. And, since we don’t know what we’d do without it, we thought it’d be pertinent to discuss the sustainability of a common coffee product hitting grocery store shelves lately – coffee pods.


There’s a lot to love about these little pouches of caffeinated coffee flavor, including convenience and ease of use. But, are some of these benefits worth the cost of producing these trendy products? Let’s take a look at whether or not coffee pods are sustainable, so you can make more informed decisions as an eco-conscious consumer. 

Coffee Pods And Their Environmental Impact

In simplest terms, coffee pods are not environmentally friendly. Even if you happen to find a brand that manufactures compostable or recyclable pods, the manufacturing process that went into producing them in the first place negates any benefit of future recycling efforts. Plus, a recent study reported in the New York Times showed that almost 40,000 coffee pods are produced worldwide every minute with 75 percent of those ending up in landfills.

How To Be A Sustainable Coffee Consumer

The world consumes an unbelievable amount of coffee, with more than 2.25 billion cups of coffee gulped down every single day. That’s equal to about one-fourth of the global population. As such, about 25 million farms across the world grow coffee, making it one of the most-traded commodities in existence. The coffee industry is unique, however, in that the vast majority of those farms are under 12 acres in size. In other words, coffee producers tend to be small, local growers that need as much help as they can get in maintaining the health of their land and crops.

1) It’s all about the beans

Coffee producers who are committed to sustainability will often announce it on their packaging or their website. Although you’ll likely have to pay more for a sustainable bean, you’re getting a higher-quality product that makes you feel good knowing it’s causing little to no harm to the environment.

2) Switch up brewing methods

Another way you can be a sustainable coffee drinker is to change how you brew your coffee. For example, cold brew coffee requires double the amount of coffee beans compared to a traditional drip brew. Take it a step further by using reusable or compostable coffee filters and leave wasteful paper filters behind.

3) Source raw beans and roast them yourself

Rather than purchasing your beans from a company that manufacturers beans, why not try roasting beans yourself? Many co-ops or organic grocery stores will have raw green coffee beans that you can buy in bulk. These can be roasted in a special machine, or even right on the stovetop.

4) Repurpose used coffee grounds

Every time you brew a batch of coffee, you have to deal with the left-over grounds. Most of the time, we simply throw them in the trash, before they ultimately end up in a landfill. However, spent grounds can be repurposed in a couple ways. First, they’ve become popular as a garden fertilizer, particularly when trying to grow mushrooms. Other ideas include turning coffee grounds into fabric dye or a refrigerator deodorizer.

5) Think outside the coffee bag

Beyond your coffee, what else are you using that could potentially be a strain on sustainable coffee practices? Dairy is a big one that most coffee drinkers seem to overlook. Even though you may only add a splash of cream to each cup of coffee, over time it adds up. Dairy production is a significant producer of greenhouse gas emissions, so consider using an organic cream or drinking your coffee black. The same goes for sugar fiends and sweetner addicts.

6) Try not to buy single-use items

Whether it’s a coffee pod, K-Cup or instant coffee, try to avoid using single-use items. These simply aren’t as environmentally friendly as buying sustainable beans and making a fresh pot of coffee at home. For commercial entities, buying in bulk is always going to be a more cost-effective, environmentally friendly option.

Are Coffee Pods Sustainable? Ultimately, No.

Instead, reach for a bag of fresh coffee beans, made by single-origin or independent producers who are committed to sustainable farming practices. If you’re an eco-conscious consumer of coffee, then there are many ways you can do your part to keep the industry’s farms healthy for generations to come. That means supporting local farms, reducing your overall consumption and cutting out single-use items, particularly coffee pods. 


For those who love coffee and practice sustainability side by side, thank you for your work – keep it up!