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Hamburg Just Became the World's First City to Ban Pod Coffee

Hamburg has had enough. In an effort to lead by green example and fight waste, the city has banned pod coffee from government buildings.
February 24, 2016, 7:00pm
Photo via Flickr user m01229

It's no secret that coffee pods aren't environmentally friendly. While you're sipping your K-Cup or Nespresso, consider that the billions of coffee pods sold over recent years could wrap around the Earth at least a dozen times. And thanks to a mix of component parts made from different materials—organic and not—they are difficult to recycle, and most end up at the dump.

Because of this, the German city of Hamburg has had enough. In an effort to lead by green example and fight waste, the city has banned pod coffee from government buildings.

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Hamburg introduced the ban, the first of its kind, last month. Individual portion packs for the "Kaffeekapselmaschine," a memo said, "cause unnecessary resource consumption and waste generation, and often contain polluting aluminum." According to The Atlantic, one in eight coffees sold in Germany is a pre-packaged pod.

"It's six grams of coffee in three grams of packaging," Jan Dube, spokesman for the Hamburg Department of the Environment and Energy, said. "We in Hamburg thought that these shouldn't be bought with taxpayers' money."

The city will make that taxpayer money go a lot further by switching from pods. Given the tiny amount of coffee in each prepackaged serving, a pound of pod coffee ends up costing about $40. Not even the bougie-est roast at your local hipster coffee shop will run close to that.

Though economics would suggest pre-packaged coffee pods would fall out of favor, it is unclear if peak pod is anywhere near. Sales growth of prepackaged coffee pods has slowed recently, but an analyst at Rabobank told The Atlantic that capsule sales have been growing 9 percent per year since 2011. Keurig, the maker of K-Cup coffee, wants more pods in the world, and recently introduced pods for Coca-Cola products and Campbell's soups.

In light of the booming pod industry, the inventor of the K-Cup, John Sylvan, regrets that he created such an environmentally harmful product. He told The Atlantic, "I feel bad that I ever did it."

Sylvan sold his company in 1997 for $50,000. Green Mountain, which now owns his invention and produces Keurig machines and K-Cups, was recently sold to a private equity firm for $14 billion.

Sylvan, by the way, doesn't own a Keurig machine. "They're kind of expensive to use," Sylvan told The Atlantic last year. "Plus, it's not like drip coffee is tough to make."

Hamburg—and Germany as a whole—has high sustainability standards, and the city has also banned plastic cutlery, plates, and water, soda, and beer that come in disposable packaging. Perhaps, though, Hamburg officials had another reason for banning coffee pods in mind as well. Pod coffee tastes pretty awful.