More than a billion used coffee pods make their way into Canadian landfills every year, thanks to the popularity of single-serve coffee machines like Keurig and Tassimo. A Progressive Conservative MPP wants to stem the garbage tide by requiring that the industry shift to compostable coffee pods within four years.
“Last month, the environmental commissioner said it clearly: Ontario has a waste problem,” said Norm Miller, MPP for Parry Sound-Muskoka. “Single-serve coffee pods are a particularly large source of plastic waste … the problem, however, is packaging and not single-serve coffee.”
He wants his bill, the Reducing Waste One Pod at a Time Act, to address a number of problems. Ontario municipalities that have their own compost programs (like Toronto’s green bin) have been leery of accepting coffee pods at all, for fear that people will throw both compostable and plastic pods into the organic waste stream.
Miller touted the success of PurPod100, a compostable coffee pod developed with the help of Guelph University’s Bioproducts Discovery and Development Centre. The pod is used by large chains, like Loblaws and McDonalds, as well as smaller coffee roasters, like Muskoka Coffee, whose owner was at Queen’s Park with Miller on Wednesday.
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Because of a fear of misinformed consumers and enduring skepticism over whether the pods are as compostable in real-world settings as their certification attests, neither Toronto nor Ottawa currently accepts the PurPod in their green bin programs. Miller hopes that, by eliminating plastic pods from people’s homes, his bill will encourage municipalities to allow coffee pods in their green bins.
He did acknowledge that a broad new environmental rule dictating consumer choice isn’t a perfect fit with the traditionally small-government PC party.
“There are some that might think it’s too much regulation, but I think it’s regulation that’s very positive. It’s the best solution for the environment, and it simplifies things for business, in my opinion.”
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Keurig Canada has committed to using recyclable (although not compostable) coffee pods across Canada by the end of 2018, and across North America by 2020. Keurig opted for recyclable pods because Canadian homes are more likely to have access to curbside recycling programs than to municipal composting services.
“Ninety-four per cent of people in Canada have access to polypropylene recycling, but less than 1 per cent have access to industrial composting facilities,” says Cynthia Shanks, director of communications and sustainability at Keurig Canada. “This means that the majority of compostable pods are going to landfill, or are being wasted in home composting and not biodegrading there.”
The question of compostable vs. recyclable isn’t just an environmental or technical one — it’s also one of consumer convenience. A spent PurPod can be thrown directly in the green bin, while a used recyclable Keurig needs to be opened and emptied of its coffee grounds before being recycled. Nevertheless, Shanks says that it’s simple enough for home consumers and that the approach is already yielding positive results.
The Liberal government has been also working on a strategy to deal with food and organic waste in the province’s landfills, which makes up nearly a third of all solid waste in Ontario. Earlier this year, the government released a discussion paper to guide possible changes to Ontario’s solid waste system. That came after the government release of the broader “Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario,” which aims (perhaps over-optimistically) to eventually eliminate waste and greenhouse gas emissions in the province.
Environment minister Chris Ballard’s office told TVO.org it will review Miller’s bill to see how it would work with the government’s organic waste strategy.
”The framework will be posted for consultation in the coming weeks. Through the consultation process, we encourage all Ontario residents to propose innovative ideas to increase diversion rates,” Raphael Lopoukhine, Ballard’s press secretary, said in an email to TVO.org.
Miller’s bill will be debated in the legislature on November 23.