Call to capsule coffee lovers to stay green

SINGAPORE - Capsule coffee machines that serve up aromatic cups of the brew in seconds are growing increasingly popular, prompting calls to recycle the single-use capsules.

The capsules are pre-filled with ground coffee, and the machines use pump-driven devices to push heated water through them at high speed in order to produce the beverage.

A recent article in The Conversation, a website that carries analyses by academics and researchers in Australia and Britain, claimed that even though the capsules could, in theory, be recycled, this is rarely done.

The problem could grow alongside the popularity of the capsules, which are believed to be sold by the billions annually.

Retailers contacted that sell the machines in Singapore all said their sales had increased during the past three years, but most of them declined to give figures.

The coffee machine was pioneered by Nespresso, part of Swiss food giant Nestle Group.

Nespresso does not track how how many capsules get recycled, but says the group's recycling programme for used capsules made its way to Singapore two years ago.

Customers can take their used capsules to Nespresso boutiques at Ion Orchard shopping centre and Takashimaya department store. Those who have their capsules delivered to them can arrange for used capsules to be picked up as well.

Nespresso's country manager, Mr Matthieu Pougin, said the brand stepped up its recycling efforts in June, by roping in hotels that offer in-room capsules. Used capsules are picked up by a courier when the new batches are delivered.

The aluminium from Nespresso's capsules is shipped to smelting plants overseas and turned into items such as window frames and bicycles, while the coffee grounds are used as compost in organic farms.

Mr Pougin added that there are plans to add more collection points, and to expand the recycling programme to include offices and more hotels.

For Italian coffee brand Illy, the volume of capsules sold in Singapore is "not significant enough" to warrant a recycling programme, although one is offered in the United States, said Ms Wendy Ng, manager of Euraco Finefood's beverage division. The company is Illy's sole distributor here. Last year, half a million Illy capsules were sold in Singapore.

Praising Nespresso's recycling programme, the Singapore Environment Council's communications manager, Ms Lynda Hong, said the company sets a "good lead for other consumer retailers to follow".

Customers who want to recycle the capsules but do not have the option to do so should highlight their concerns to those supplying the machines, she added.

This article was first published on September 8, 2014.
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