FAQ: THE FACTS About Compostable Coffee Pods

Compostable Coffee Pods

A recent CBC Marketplace episode reported misleading and erroneous information on compostable coffee pods. Here are the FACTS:

  1. Our plant-based compostable coffee pods thoroughly break down in the most common municipal composting technologies in North America (aerobic and anaerobic pre-processing).
  2. Our compostable coffee pods have been successfully tested in many Canadian municipalities, including the City of Toronto.
  3. Our compostable pods meet international standards with 3rd party certification and many US composters have tested and accepted our compostable pods.
  4. Our plant based pods are fully certified to break down into good compost soil, without microplastics or soil toxicity, found in traditional plastics.
  5. Over 1 Billion of our compostable pods have already been enjoyed by Canadians in the past 3 years.
  6. Plant based compostable coffee pods make a better tasting cup of coffee, are better for the environment, and avoid using the polypropylene and vinyl compounds found in plastic single-serve cups.
Q: Canadian broadcaster CBC aired a news report about compostable consumer products. What did they claim?

A: The CBC reporter made a factually incorrect case that our plant-based compostable coffee pods actually don’t get composted but rather go straight to landfill. She went on to claim that labeling these pods as compostable if they go to landfill is “greenwashing”, the practice of some companies who make environmental (green) claims which are not supported in physical reality.

Q: What are your compostable coffee pods made of?

A: Our compostable coffee pods are more than 85% coffee grounds (real, actual coffee) with a paper lid, a coffee filter made from cornstarch, and a plant-based compostable ring made with coffee bean husks (that’s why they’re brown!). They might feel like fossil-fuel-based plastic, but they’re actually plant material that we’ve ground up and heated and formed to provide strength to the coffee pod, which then biodegrades after use.

Q: Does your compostable coffee pod actually breakdown in municipal composting systems?

A: Yes! Our pods have been designed from the start to be composted in all types of municipal composting systems, both aerobic (oxygenated) and anaerobic (without oxygen). We spent over $15M in R&D with partners like the University of Guelph, one of Canada’s top green technology universities, to develop a science-based approach to reducing single-use plastic and greenhouse gases in single-serve coffee.

Q: Have you ever tested your compostable pods in actual municipal composters?

A: Yes! And we have passed multiple tests in both Canada and the US. In the US, we are approved by the national Compost Manufacturing Alliance, the largest group of municipal composters in the country. And we have been accepted in lots of municipalities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and in up-state New York. Many other municipalities are currently building and upgrading their systems to accept compostables.

In Canada, we completed successful municipal tests in the City of Ottawa, the City of Guelph, and many others across the country, including the City of Toronto! Check out the City of Toronto’s website for their own test report giving our compostable pods a passing grade. You can find it here: City of Toronto.

Q: So do your pods get sorted out in pre-processing and go directly to landfill as the episode claimed?

 A: No. In most municipal food waste collection processes, the food waste (including compostable coffee pods) gets dumped at the compost facility as a large disgusting mess filled with lots of paper bags holding food waste as well as a lot of loose material, some of it already partially decomposed. At an anaerobic composter like at the City of Toronto, the food waste is loaded in bulk (no pre-sorting as you might find in a recycling plant) into a machine called a hydro pulper, which is a large, whirring machine that uses a mechanical rotor and water to remove non-compostable materials, known as contaminants.

Those contaminants, which often include items like parts of disposable diapers and sanitary napkins, plastic bags, and light items (cutlery, straws), float to the top of the pulper and get skimmed off. Heavier contaminants — glass, metal, stones, and shells — fall to the bottom and get removed. The top and bottom contaminants go to landfill.

Compostable coffee pods break apart quickly and become part of the good “middle layer” of compost. For more details, check out the City of Toronto test report where compostable pods were given a passing grade.

In fact, since over 85% of the weight of compostable coffee pods are actually coffee grounds – which are so nitrogen rich that they are coveted by composters – the resulting compost soil from compostable coffee pods is excellent, and free from microplastics and other soil toxins.

Q: So the municipalities’ own tests show that your compostable pods work fine in their systems, and that most pods that are collected as municipal food waste (e.g.: in the green bin in the City of Toronto) actually do end up getting composted. Then why don’t more municipalities “officially accept” them?

A: We believe that some municipalities are concerned that “officially accepting” compostable coffee pods will mean that consumers might get confused and put plastic coffee pods into the food waste stream creating more contamination. Club Coffee has developed and will fund consumer education programs that will minimize this issue.

We believe that some municipalities have economic concerns, but studies have shown that compostable pods are not only significantly better environmentally than plastic cups, they are also better economically for the municipalities. A recent study by Calvin Lakhan, Ph.D, at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University found:

 “Compostable coffee pods are economically and environmentally superior to plastic pods:

  • The environmental return for compostable coffee pods is almost 30x greater than plastic.
  • York University developed a new metric to compare the economic and environmental viability of managing different packaging materials – how much money needs to be spent on recycling/composting in order to abate one tonne of carbon:
    • Recyclers need to spend $5,500 to abate one tonne of carbon from recycling coffee pods.
    • Composters need to spend $185.19 to abate one tonne of carbon from composting coffee pods.”

And some municipalities just aren’t keeping up with the state of compostable technology. As Professor Amar Mohanty, OAC Distinguished Research Chair in Sustainable Biomaterials, at the University of Guelph says:

If municipalities are not accepting certified compostable bioplastic; the reason is not that they are not compostable.  Municipalities need resources to respond and adapt to the growing need for the organic recycling of certified compostable plastics. They also need necessary infrastructure improvements already available in other parts of the world.

The CBC coverage also failed to recognize that there is progress toward formal acceptance. The Ontario government heralded Club Coffee’s compostable pod innovation on page 43 of their environment plant “Preserving and Protecting our Environment for Future Generations: A Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan”. The plan explicitly cites their priority to: “Ensure new compostable packaging materials in Ontario are accepted by existing and emerging green bin programs across the province, by working with municipalities.” This is not “greenwashing.”

In the meantime, Canadians have enjoyed over 1 Billion cups of coffee made from our compostable coffee pods, and all of these have been processed by Canadian municipalities.

Q: Are your pods scientifically verified by any third parties?

A: Club Coffee’s coffee pods meet the internationally-established standard of 100% compostability as certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). This is a US-based independent certification organization which ensures that any product they certify is fully compostable (all components) into good compost soil with no soil toxicity.

In fact, Club Coffee’s plant-based compostable coffee pods have won 10 prestigious international awards for their science-based approach to reducing  greenhouse gases from single-use plastics.

Q: After composting, what do your compostable pods break down into?

A: Our plant-based coffee pods were specifically designed to break down into the compost equivalent of food waste, like banana peels or corn cobs. In fact, our pods biodegrade faster in municipal composters than many food wastes like cherry pits, chicken bones, and corn cobs.

Q: Can I put these pods into my backyard compost?

A: Many people do put our plant-based pods into their backyard compost. Since 85% of the pod is nitrogen-rich coffee grounds, even in a backyard composter coffee grounds are an excellent addition.

Unfortunately, there is no standardized certification for backyard composting yet, since every backyard composter is different: different temperatures, different moisture content, different bacteria, even different climate conditions can affect the compostability of any food waste (from banana peels to coffee pods). So though we cannot certify our pods for backyard composting, many consumers have written to us with successful backyard compost stories, from climates north, south, east, and west.

Check out our Composting 101 FAQ for more information: Composting 101

Q: Are your compostable pods better than plastic pods/cups?

A: We believe our plant-based compostable pods are better in 3 important ways:

  1. Plant-based pods give a better tasting cup of coffee.

    With a plant-based filter, more total dissolved solids (the stuff that gives coffee its delicious taste) end up in the cup to drink. Also, coffee in plastic single-cups has to be “de-gassed” for a long time before it is packed into the plastic cup. When coffee is roasted it gives off gases as it roasts, which take a long time to dissipate as it cools down and for many hours afterwards. Putting freshly roasted coffee into a little plastic cup without first letting it de-gas would bloat and explode the cup! So plastic single-cup coffee is left open to de-gas for a long time, but this exposure to the air is also what causes coffee to go stale. So if you’ve ever wondered why your plastic single-cup coffee tastes stale, that’s the reason.
    With a plant-based compostable soft-pod (no plastic cup), the coffee is packed fresh, and sealed in an oxygen-free bag – no stale coffee!

  2. Plant-based pods are better for the environment.

    Plant-based compostable pods are better at the beginning of life. They don’t use a fossil-fuel-based plastic cup, and instead use agricultural inputs (often agricultural waste inputs, like coffee bean skins, known as coffee chaff).
    Plant-based compostable pods are better at time of use. They don’t need to be peeled and emptied and cleaned like “recyclable” plastic cups. Everyone recognizes how difficult that is to do with a boiling hot plastic pod, and how unlikely anyone will bother do any of that with a convenience based product.
    Plant-based compostable pods reduce coffee waste. Life-cycle analysis shows that the biggest consumer of drip/pot coffee is … the sink drain. Single-serve pods only make the exact amount of coffee required.
    Plant-based compostable pods are better at the end of life. They can divert all their organic material into soil, rather than landfill, and reduce greenhouse gases and the need for single use plastics. “Recyclable” plastic pods are made from polypropylene and contain an undeclared layer of a vinyl-based polymer. Multi-layer plastics such as “recyclable” plastic pods are difficult to recycle and are most often removed from the recycling stream, to be incinerated or go to landfill. Check out the class-action suit against a “recyclable” plastic pod maker launched in California.
    Greenpeace recently did a scathing study of the plastic coffee pods currently being marketed as recyclable, and have nothing good to say – indeed, they identify these so-called recyclable plastic pods as the real “greenwashing”.

  3. Plant-based pods avoid any risks associated with drinking from plastic.

    Our plant-based compostable pods do not contain any of the polypropylene, vinyl compounds, or talc that can be found multi-layer fossil fuel plastics.

Q: Are compostable plastics a good solution to the single-use plastic issue?

 A: Compostable plastics and composting have been referenced as an evolution and “Future of Plastics” – these two articles highlight the reasons why:

Q: Why even bother with coffee pods, they seem wasteful?

 A: Coffee pods actually have a smaller carbon footprint than drip coffee. Check out this 3rd party peer-reviewed LCA study: www.pac.ca

For further questions, please contact us! We’d love to hear from you.

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