Too many single-serve coffee pods ending up in landfills, Coun. Jaye Robinson says

The chair of the city's public works and infrastructure committee is asking Toronto's waste management department to study ways to reduce the number of single-serve coffee pods that end up in landfills.

City should find ways to reduce number of coffee pods ending up in garbage, Robinson says

Toronto-based Club Coffee has developed a coffee pod that has won certification as 100-per-cent compostable. But Toronto's Solid Waste Services says the pods are ending up in landfills along with plastic and aluminum coffee pods. (Club Coffee)

The chair of the city's public works and infrastructure committee is asking Toronto's waste management department to study ways to reduce the number of single-serve coffee pods that end up in landfills.

Although not much of a coffee drinker herself, Coun. Jaye Robinson decided to raise the issue of coffee waste, after the recent introduction of a coffee pod marketed as compostable, and 100 per cent biodegradable.

"I'm expecting more people, who are environmentally responsible, are going to start using these new compostable pods," said Robinson, who represents Ward 25, Don Valley West. "The issue is, it's actually not compostable in Toronto."

Last month, Loblaws launched its President's Choice single-serve coffee pods, made by Toronto's Club Coffee, using innovation from the University of Guelph. 

But the general manager of Solid Waste Management Services, Jim McKay, says the new pods are all getting sorted into the garbage, just like the increasingly popular plastic and aluminum versions.

"We might be able to get the organic [matter] out of the pods themselves, but the pod doesn't break down quick enough to be managed in our plants," McKay told CBC News.

Coun. Jaye Robinson, chair of the city's public works and infrastructure committee, wants staff to look at ways to reduce the number of single-serve coffee pods ending up in landfills. (CBC)

And while he's happy companies are working on alternatives to plastic and aluminum pods used to feed our coffee habit, for now, he says it's only creating more waste for the city.

"We've expressed concerns for a couple of years now, with these companies. As much as they are marked as compostable, they're not accepted in the majority of the municipal recycling or composting programs in this province," said McKay.

In Canada, two thirds of adults enjoy a cup of coffee daily, and 25 per cent of those cups of coffee come from single use pods. This according to the Coffee Association of Canada, which conducts an annual study on coffee-drinking habits.

Club Coffee estimates Canadians discard 2.8 million pods a day, including those made by Nespresso, Tassimo and Keurig.

The company says its new pods are "100 per cent compostable," made from plant material and reclaimed coffee bean skins.

It takes 84 days for the pods to fully break down, according to the company's website.

But McKay says that isn't fast enough for the city.

Jim McKay, general manager of Toronto's Solid Waste Management Services, says the compostable single-serve coffee pods don't break down quickly enough. (CBC)

"What we're really concerned about is mixed messaging to the consumer. That they're buying a product that they believe is compostable, and in some cased potentially paying a premium for the product, and in the end it's just going to end up in the garbage anyway," he said.

Robinson also appreciates companies and consumers who are trying to do the right thing to cut waste. But she says Toronto and other municipalities are not equipped to deal with all the coffee pods.

"I think the usage is going to go up. People are going to legitimately, and understandably, feel they are doing something good for the earth. They're going to buy these, and throw them into the green bin. But the truth is, they're not going to be composted, they're going to go directly into the landfill site."

'Certified compostable'

Where the compostable pods don't break down fast enough, the plastic ones are too small for the city's automated sorting system, McKay says.

For its part, Loblaw Companies Ltd. says the Club Coffee pod is "certified compostable" in industrial systems.

"Some municipalities accept it, some are testing it, and some — like Toronto, under Coun. Robinson's urging — are seeing the value of consideration. We believe this home-grown innovation resolves the tension between single serve waste and consumer convenience," said Bob Chant, Loblaw's senior vice president of corporate affairs, in an emailed statement to CBC News.

Robinson says upgrading infrastructure to handle sorting and disposing of the various materials in the pods would be a heavy cost for the taxpayer.

Ahead of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee's meeting next week, Robinson says she will amend her motion to include studying ways to get the province, and corporations involved in tackling the issue of single-use coffee waste.

Solid Waste Management Services are expected to report back to the city in the second quarter of 2017.