Melbourne mum's innovation to avert a coffee pod 'disaster'

Like many Australians, Melbourne mother Kayla Mossuto is a big coffee drinker and relies on her beloved coffee pod machine to kick-start her day.

“It was this new whizz-bang product that made it really convenient and quick and easy,” Ms Mossuto said recalling her excitement of getting one of the machines that now feature in many Australian homes and offices.

But after learning about the lasting impact coffee pods are having on the environment, she had to make a change -– and saw an opportunity to make a buck at the same time.

Or as she likes to put it: fight back against what has come to be known as “the George Clooney effect”.

In 2006, the actor became the face of Nespresso's coffee pods, which along with the accompanying machines promise cafe-style coffee at home with a click of a button.

Crema Joe founder Kayla Mossuto, pictured left, and a picture of masses of used coffee pods. Source: Supplied
Kayla and her husband saw an opportunity in the staggering amount of coffee pods that end up in landfill each year. Source: Supplied

Since then they have slowly taken over the world. In 2010 the global coffee pod market was worth about $7 billion. Five years later it had ballooned to roughly $17 billion.

Aussies consuming three million coffee pods a day

Today it’s estimated that Australians consume more than 3 million single-serve coffee pods every single day, according to the University of Melbourne. That figure has been bounded around for a couple years now, with other estimates suggesting that number has continued to rise much higher.

But it has come at an environmental cost.

“My husband is Italian so we drink a lot of coffee ... But at some point we started seeing the stats about landfill issue with coffee pods,” Ms Mossuto told Yahoo News Australia. “Basically from there we started looking at alternatives.”

Soon after Ms Mossuto, and her partner Piers, launched Crema Joe, a start-up company that makes a line of sustainable coffee products including “infinitely reusable” stainless steel coffee capsules.

“There are literally millions of these pod machines in homes across the globe, what we’re trying to do is provide a solution for people who already have a coffee machine,” Mossuto said.

The company makes steel capsules that are designed to be used in popular models of machines, including Nespresso, Dolce Gusto, Aldi and Caffitaly.

They launched in 2014 as a husband and wife team and have grown the Melbourne-based business to hire four full-time staff.

A picture of industrial bins filled with used coffee pods, shared on Twitter in 2017 by New Zealand MP Chlöe Swarbrick.
This picture was shared on Twitter in 2017 by New Zealand MP Chlöe Swarbrick celebrating "a sea of coffee pods" being diverted from landfill. Source: Twitter/Chlöe Swarbrick

Former Nespresso boss says pods are a disaster

Coffee pods are usually made from a combination of plastics and aluminium but because of their small size, recycling facilities are ill-equipped to process them.

As a result they fall through the cracks of Australia’s struggling recycling industry and end up in landfill where they take anywhere between 150 to 500 years to break down.

Even the former Nespresso chief executive Jean-Paul Gaillard has taken aim at the industry he helped make so successful.

"It will be a disaster and it's time to move on that. People shouldn't sacrifice the environment for convenience," he said in 2016, revealing that he had written to George Clooney informing him about the detrimental environmental impact of the pods.

Due to the greater awareness of the problem, there is a growing list of options on the market for eco-conscious consumers.

The Crema Joe reusable metal pod alternative

When Ms Mossuto and her husband were researching the business, they looked into a number of biodegradable coffee pod options but were ultimately disappointed by what they found.

“Some of them are not necessarily backyard or landfill biodegradable,” she explained. “They require industrial facilities to break down in an adequate amount of time.

“It’s really great that consumers are looking for more sustainable solutions but we definitely say to people if they’re looking at biodegradable options to read the fine print and make sure that capsule is actually going to break down correctly if you pop it in your bin.”

The reusable metal pods cost about $25 per capsule and let users add their own ground coffee, making it a more cost effective and environmentally-friendly solution over the long term.

The Crema Joe reusable metallic pods (pictured) cost about $25 per capsule and can be used with pod machines including Nespresso and Aldi Expressi. Source: Crema Joe
The metallic pods cost about $25 per capsule and let users add their own ground coffee. Source: Crema Joe

Can I recycle Nespresso or Aldi coffee pods?

Many major pod manufacturers do offer customers the chance to recycle their used pods.

Nespresso has a recycling program but relies on consumers dropping them to stores or affiliated drop off spots.

Meanwhile Aldi, another major supplier of popular pods, had a recycling program but shut it recently after the program quickly reached capacity and has not yet reopened it.

“We understand the importance of finding a solution to recycle used Expressi capsules and have invested considerable time researching an effective solution. We anticipate that we will have a program finalised in due course,” the company told Yahoo News.

In her research, Ms Mossuto believes as little as five per cent of capsules end up getting properly recycled.

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