Coffee capsules

The Consumer guide to coffee capsules and capsule waste.

Espresso with coffee capsules

If you're looking for the perfect café style espresso, coffee capsules could be your answer.

How they work

Coffee capsule machines don’t have a portafilter or require tamping. Instead they use pre-packaged coffee capsules. These capsules are hermetically sealed, giving them a long shelf life compared to beans or grind. When a capsule is inserted into the machine and extraction starts, the capsule is pierced and water is pumped through and then poured into the cup.

The same process is used for milk capsules.

Capsule brands

Capsule espresso machines work best with that brand’s capsule. This means choosing a machine that uses coffee capsules you like. Try out the flavours before you buy. Some stores offer taste tests or if you have friends with a capsule machine, invite yourself over for a coffee. Here’s our summary of the major brands available.

They have six capsule ranges available, including George Clooney’s favourite Decaffeinato Intenso. Each range comes in four or more strengths. They also have a Variations range that blend flavours such as caramel and vanilla with the coffee. Nespresso capsules are sold at five stores and online.

Nescafe Dolce Gusto
Nescafe have 11 flavours from macchiato to Americano, one tea flavour and two hot chocolates. Capsules are available in supermarkets and selected appliance retailers. For some flavours, Nescafe also include milk capsules (used like coffee capsules). However, this results in extra waste.

Sold in Countdown stores under the Select brand, these capsules come in four strengths – standard, medium roast, smooth and decaffeinated. Other businesses, such as Gloria Jean’s and Moccona, also produce Caffitaly capsules with their own grind blends.

Other brands
No manufacturer recommends using third-party capsules in its machines, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work in them. “Compatible” capsules are readily available in supermarkets, but using them could potentially void your warranty. Your CGA rights would only be affected if they caused a fault.

There are compostable capsules on the market. There are also refillable coffee capsules you can prepare yourself – although this does take away from the convenience of a capsule machine.

Capsule waste

Why is recycling used coffee capsules so difficult? Because they’re made of different materials that can vary from brand to brand. Some are entirely aluminium or plastic, while others are a mixture. None are marked with a plastic recycling number, which means they can’t be thrown out with your household recycling.

We emptied coffee capsules from three major brands and weighed them. Nespresso (aluminium) capsules weighed 1g on average, while Nescafe Dolce Gusto (aluminium and plastic) and Caffitaly (plastic) capsules were just over 3g each.

Increasingly, manufacturers are turning to a third party to deal with the capsule waste. TerraCycle collects Nespresso, Nescafe Dolce Gusto and L’OR capsules. It has partnered with 125 florists and garden centres where you can drop off or post used capsules. Between 2014 and 2018, it had gathered more than 610,000 Nescafe Dolce Gusto and L’OR capsules. Figures weren’t available for Nespresso capsules.

However, in 2018, TerraCycle said it’s yet to recycle any of these capsules. It said it needed a “large enough” volume before processing can begin.

You can drop off Nespresso capsules in any of its five stores. They are then sent to a recycling plant in south Auckland that the company has partnered with “to put in place a dedicated system to recycle Nespresso used aluminium capsules”.

You can’t recycle Caffitaly capsules. They go straight to the landfill.

This isn’t good enough. Manufacturers, in choosing to use capsules to deliver coffee, are responsible for generating this waste and must take an active role in helping consumers recycle them.

Capsule waste survey

Our 2018 survey of 94 capsule coffee drinkers found 58% recycled their capsules. However, 30% didn’t know they could recycle capsules.

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