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Environment

German city bans plastic coffee pods in another win for the environment

Flickr: Joe Shlabotnik

The German city of Hamburg recently banned coffee pods, a major step towards sustainability that will likely trigger similar bans across the world. 

Here's why

Coffee is an enormous global industry. From farms, to production centers, to super markets and cafes, coffee has a major economic impact

And this impact will only increase in the years ahead. 

2 billion cups of coffee are consumed  each day around the world , a number that has risen by 43% over the past 15 years. 

Increasingly, people in wealthy areas are getting their coffee from convenient, single-serve pods, like K-cups, Nespresso pods, etc.  

Keurig, which makes K-cups, sold more than 9.8 billion value packs in 2014. The company's revenue is 5 times what it was 5 years ago . In other words, the number of coffee pods in the world is already enormous, and it is rapidly increasing each year. 

Like many things that are super convenient, coffee pods are bad for the environment. 

Many of them can't be fully recycled and those that can be recycled consume a lot of energy in the process because of their complicated design. So either way, there's a net environmental loss. 

And since they are consumed in such bulk, billions of these plastic shells are piling up in landfills each year. 

The worst part about this trend is that coffee pods are entirely unnecessary.

There's simply no reason why coffee has to come from a single-serve plastic and aluminum pod. 

Brewing a pot of coffee doesn't take that much longer and is dramatically more environmentally friendly--there's no plastic involved and you can compost the filter and spent coffee grounds afterwards. 

Or, if you're truly addicted to the pod based coffee machines, you can use reusable pods that you simply fill with the coffee of your choice (even Keurig sees the value in this and have marketed a reusable pod). 

Using a coffee pod shaves a few seconds off the process, while adding more plastic into the world. Plus, in my opinion, coffee pods make gross coffee (and who wants their coffee coming from a heated plastic shell?). 

What's the next step?

The ban may be slightly inconvenient for many citizens of Hamburg, but sometimes you have to weigh environmental harm against value gained. In this case, the environmental harm significantly outweighs the value gained. 

In the months and years ahead, other cities across the world will make this simple calculation and follow the lead of Hamburg. 

In the meantime, check out this video comically warning about the environmental effects of coffee pods and start acting in your own life. You don't have to wait for a government to act to remove waste from your life.