Waste Management

How Can Coffee's Pollution Be Reduced?

Sep 16 2017 Read 594 Times

They say money makes the world go round – but coffee must surely have a hand in it as well. Millions of reluctant risers kickstart their day with a steaming cup of Joe, but the hugely popular stimulant doesn’t come without its own sizable environmental price tag… especially if you prioritise convenience.

Particularly popular in hotels, restaurants, airports and the suchlike, tiny coffee milk and cream pots are also available for private consumption. While these are measured out in just the right amount for a single cuppa, they contribute to the masses of plastic pollution which are plaguing our landfills and our oceans on an increasingly worrying basis. However, a team of researchers from Germany has sought to right this wrong with a milk pod which cuts out the plastic middle man altogether.

A plastic problem

At present, we’re living in a world utterly dominated by plastic. It serves as the packaging for much of the food we consume, the material which constitutes much of our furniture and even the components of the computer, tablet or Smartphone upon which you’re likely reading this article.

Obviously, this necessitates a monumental waste problem. The full extent of plastic pollution was only revealed earlier this year, when researchers found that concentrations of plastic in waters surrounding Antarctica are five times higher than previously expected.

Of course, tiny milk pods for coffee are an incredibly small part of this problem, when you take the bigger picture into account. At the same time, any solution which makes inroads into our epidemic of plastic waste is surely a good thing.

Cutting out the middle man

In a bid to dispense with the necessity of plastic packaging, scientists from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany have developed a crystalline capsule that is able to be dropped directly into a hot cup of tea or coffee.

With an exterior made of a sugary crystalline substance, the capsules are capable of containing the milk while they remain at room temperature. As soon as they enter the hot tea or coffee, they immediately dissolve and release their lactose contents, thus flavouring the beverage.

Scientists have developed two varieties: one for those with a sweeter tooth (sucrose capsules) and one for those who prefer a less saccharine taste to their drink (erythritol capsules). “Our processes can also be used for other liquids,” says Martha Wellner, one of the brains behind the idea. “For example, we can also encapsulate fruit juice concentrate.”

A greener cup of coffee

Creamer pods are just one of the many polluting facets of the caffeine industry; the Nespresso craze has led to a proliferation of the equally wasteful caffeine pods, as well. Indeed, the man behind the Keurig K-Cup John Sylvan recently said he regrets his invention due to the burden it places on the environment.

Though the MLU team have yet to develop a capsule capable of containing the coffee grounds themselves (thus accommodating for the Nespresso market), the dissolvable milk and cream cups certainly represent a step in the right direction.

Elsewhere, Californian start-up company Reduce. Reuse. Grow has pioneered disposable coffee cups which contain plantable seeds inside, so that the cups themselves can actually be buried and give new life to the world. Clearly, coffee might be responsible for an unacceptable amount of pollution as things stand – but at least those within the industry are making strides towards addressing that problem.

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