As It Happens

Hamburg becomes the first city to reject single-use coffee pods

The city of Hamburg in Germany is taking measures to become more eco-friendly, including banning the use of K-cups in government buildings.
Hamburg, Germany just banned all single-use coffee pods from government-run buildings in an effort to promote more sustainable alternatives. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters/Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

They're compact, convenient and make a tasty brew. But single use coffee pods also create a staggering amount of waste.

According to Kill the K-Cup, an ad campaign against the product, there were enough K-Cups discarded in 2014 to circle the earth more than 10 times. Even the inventor of the K-Cup, John Sylvan, has admitted he regrets creating the product.

But now, officials in the city of Hamburg, Germany are taking action. They're banning the small, colourful cups from all government buildings.

A Green Mountain single-serving brewing cup in a Keurig machine. (Toby Talbot/AP)

"We think it's time to evaluate this very critically," Jens Kerstan tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "If you look at the logical costs about efficiency, energy efficiency, about waste and, in the end, of money — it makes no sense buying those machines."

Kerstan is the senator for the Hamburg Ministry for Environment and Energy. 

The ban is part of a broader comprehensive 150-page plan released by the city that prioritises sustainable and green initiatives.

"We want to avoid spending public money on products that are bad for our environment and that make it much harder to fight climate change and, on the other hand, to strengthen producers of goods that are much more favourable in order of ecological criteria," Kerstan explains.

Visitors walk past a Nespresso stand in Berlin, Germany. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Kerstan knows it will be difficult to persuade people to give up the convenient coffee pods — a system which he estimates accounts for 25 percent of coffee consumption in Germany.

Jens Kerstan, Hamburg Ministry for Environment and Energy (Twitter)
 But through the government action, Kerstan hopes the public will start to become more aware of the environmental costs and change their own consumption habits.
"Everybody, many public servants use them, many people all over our city," Kerstan admits. "We even wanted to trigger a public discussion about this point because we have quite a few public servants."

Visitors look at espresso coffee capsules at a 2014 trade fair in Berlin. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Recycling doesn't really help. Recycling should be used if all other alternatives don't work and there are much more efficient and better ways to produce coffee than those capsules.- Jens Kerstan, Hamburg Ministry for Environment and Energy

When asked what he makes of the K-Cup creator telling As It Happens that he regrets his invention, Kerstan suggests Sylvan probably never anticipated the product would be so successful and damaging to the environment.

"I can understand him. I don't really pity him," Kerstan quips. "But, in the end, everybody has to make his choices and everybody has responsibility for the environment and, in the end, for a good future — for future generations not yet born."


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