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A sustainable convenience: a look at the environmental impacts of coffee capsules

From the May 2012 issue.

As the number of coffee capsules on the planet skyrockets, advocates are growing increasingly concerned of the environmental impacts from single-serve systems. Experts speak about what it will take to make these systems sustainable.

coffee capsulesAmidst much talk of an increasing level of demand for coffee, one report in March stood out as a rare occurrence of an industry leader predicting a drop.

In a New York interview, Chief Executive Officer, Andrea Illy, told Bloomberg that demand for coffee could potentially decline by 1 per cent in the long term. With the International Coffee Organisation among others predicting an increasing demand for coffee, it was unusual for someone to speak of a potential drop in consumption.

The decline Illy was referring to was due to the use of single-serve systems, such as pods or coffee capsules. As coffee drinkers can make just one cup at a time, there is no longer the need to pour that extra coffee down the drain. As such, Illy was saying that less coffee wastage could lead to lower coffee consumption figures.

The theory doesn’t only stand out as a rare factor that could reduce coffee consumption. It’s also one of the only environmental benefits that advocates mention in discussing the sustainability of single-serve systems. As used coffee capsules pile up in landfills and powered capsule machines increase electricity bills, the sustainability of single-serve systems is becoming a hotly debated topic.

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