Yes, actually, your plastic coffee capsule may not be good for the climate.
You may have come across news headlines about coffee this week, like this bbc: “The carbon footprint of the coffee capsule is better for the planet than the filtered brew.”
The stories are about a short article published earlier this month That says single-use coffee pods may be better for the climate than other forms of coffee preparation.
The social media and media coverage was welcome news for many single-serve coffee makers, who have heard for years that the disposable metal and plastic pods in their machines harm the environment. Columnist Matthew Yglesias tweeted: “Vindication”.
The problem is that the positive opinion about coffee pods and the weather might not be true.
Despite the hype, it’s hard to know how solid the conclusions are in the article that blew up online this week. This is partly because the article is not a formal peer-reviewed study, meaning it has not yet been vetted by other experts in the field. The paper’s lead author, Luciano Rodrigues Viana, a doctoral student at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi, said in an email to NPR that he hopes to publish a peer-reviewed study soon.
And the research on the climate impact of coffee pods is unresolved. Viana’s article says that coffee capsules may have lower emissions than other forms of coffee preparation. But a 2021 peer-reviewed article found just the opposite: that coffee capsules represent more emissions than other ways of making coffee, due to the greenhouse gases generated by the production of the packaging of the pods and the management of waste.
Media scholars who study climate change are not surprised by the burning opinions in the article.
Headlines that single-use coffee pods can be “environmentally friendly” have a lot of appeal, he says Max Boykoff, professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“Novelty can really propel a story,” says Boykoff. “Something that could be seen as contradictory, that would grab people’s attention.”
the problem is that these kinds of media stories it can take us away from the big picture of planet-warming emissions and sources of pollution much bigger than your cup of coffee, says Boykoff.
“Shaming each other about the way we make coffee or if we drink coffee, I think actually, it really does some damage and distracts us from some real challenges at hand, real work that should be done.”
This all started with a short article.
Viana, the lead author, says she didn’t expect this media attention. Earlier this month, he and his colleagues published their analysis comparing filter coffee, French press coffee, instant coffee, and single-use pod coffee. They found that coffee pods can have a lower environmental impact than the other methods, because they can waste less water and coffee, and the machines can also use less electricity. Viana points out that similar findings have also been published by some other researchers.
But now the article has taken on a life of its own, even spawning at least one popular post. Tik Tok.
“I would like to clarify something,” Viana writes in an email. “We did not write this article to encourage people to use pods/pods (we even suggest using reusable pods) or to stop drinking coffee. The goal was to focus on the main issues with coffee consumption at the consumer level.”
But the emissions in coffee consumption are not only reduced to the consumer, says Boykoff. He says that media coverage of what is driving emissions must also take into account the role of the largest companies. When it comes to single-use coffee, that means companies like Keurig Dr Pepper or Nespresso, corporations that make many of the plastic and metal pods consumers use.
Coffee pod manufacturers also have a role to play in emissions
Keurig Dr Pepper uses plastic to produce its pods. In addition to being hard to recycle, plastic is derived from fossil fuels. A Keurig Dr Pepper spokesperson said the data on greenhouse gas emissions from its pods is proprietary information and said in an email that they “remain focused on improving the sustainability attributes of our Keurig brewing system.”
Nespresso, owned by Nestlé, makes coffee capsules primarily out of aluminum, says Anna Marciano, chief sustainability officer and general counsel for Nespresso USA. She says the company is working with municipalities like New York City on their recycling infrastructure for aluminum pods and is also piloting a program for compostable coffee pods in Europe.
Nespresso spends more than $35 million a year on a coffee pod recycling program, according to Marciano. “It’s not something we’re not investing in,” she says.
And how much is actually recycled in the US? “We could be between 36% and 37% nationally,” says Marciano.
When it comes to broadcasts, media scholars recommend keeping your eyes on the ball
Ultimately, climate media scholars worry that too much attention to individual actions, like using coffee pods, could distract us from climate solutions that can have a bigger impact, like regulating the broader plastic or fuel industries. fossils, says Jill Hopke, associate professor of journalism at DePaul University.
“And we can get so caught up in this kind of bookkeeping, right?” Hopke says. “Losing the big picture of what kind of social changes we need to make.”
boycottwhose research has analyzed The impact of the media on climate actionHe says that in the grand scheme of individual actions we can take on climate, reducing coffee consumption is not at the top of his list.
“Would my environmental impact be greater if I stopped eating meat today or if I stopped drinking coffee?” he asks. I think the answer is clearly if one chooses to eat meat Or not.”
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