Environment, News

Hamburg, Germany Government Bans “Coffee Pods”

Image: Andrés Nieto Porras
Image: Andrés Nieto Porras

People have a love-hate relationship with coffee pods. Love the convenience, hate the waste.

“Coffee pods” or “capsules” are little plastic or aluminum, coffee containers that are used to brew a single cup of coffee.

They are used in coffee makers made by companies like Keurig, Nespresso and Tassimo.

People like them because each person can make one single cup of coffee, just the way they like it.

The problem is, those little cups are difficult–if not impossible–to recycle. That’s because they’re made of a mixture of very different types of material: a plastic or aluminum cup, a paper filter and a tin lid, along with the grounds themselves, which are organic. They’re also not “biodegradable,” (they don’t break down naturally over time) which means that they’ll exist in the landfill for a long time.

It’s not a small problem. According to The Atlantic, Keurig has sold nine billion of the little cups. And they’re just one of many companies that sell them.

In fact, Hamburg, in Germany, recently banned the purchase of the “portion packaged” coffee and hot drinks in government buildings. Currently, one in eight coffees in Germany is now made with a “Kaffeekapselmaschine,” according to the BBC.

Even the inventor of the Keurig K-Cup doesn’t like them. John Sylvan told a reporter for The Atlantic last year that he doesn’t have one, and that they tend to be quite expensive to use. He also said that sometimes he feels bad that he ever invented them, because of the ecological problems they cause.

Related links
Two excellent articles about the pods, in The Atlantic and by the BBC.

By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Coffee pods are such small items, yet when tens of thousands are used by people every day, the impact on the environment can be very large.

Another item we use every day that had a large environmental impact is plastic shopping bags. People use them every day, throw them out, and the plastic just sits in a landfill for an extremely long time.

Can you think of another item that is used and thrown out daily that is harmful to the environment? Is there any way to reduce the use of this item and find an alternative that is more environmentally friendly?

Reading Prompt: Reading Unfamiliar Words
The author doesn’t explain what the German word Kaffeekapselmaschine. However, even if you don’t speak German, you may be able to figure out what the word means. What do you think it means? How did you figure that out?

Junior and Intermediate
Predict the meaning of and rapidly solve unfamiliar words using different types of cues, including: semantic (meaning), syntactic (language structure), and graphophonic (phonological and graphic) cues (OME, Reading: 3.2).

Language Feature: Em-dash
There are many different types of dashes in writing and one of them is called the em-dash. The em-dash is the longest (it is approximately the length of the letter m) and it shouldn’t have a space before of after it.

The following sentence in the article uses the em-dash: “The problem is, those little cups are difficult–if not impossible–to recycle.”

In this example, how does the em-dash work? Why do you think it is used?