• A new study found coffee pods are not as environmentally harmful as previously thought.
  • The University of Quebec report was met with positive reactions, especially among coffee pod users.
  • However, past research shows mixed results about the environmetal impact of pods, NPR reported.

Despite buzz surrounding a recent study that found single-use coffee pods may not be as harmful to the environment as previously thought, past and emerging research indicate otherwise. 

The study — conducted by researchers at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi — was not a formal analysis and has not been peer reviewed by experts, lead author Luciano Rodrigues Viana told NPR. Viana said the goal of the study was not necessarily to encourage the use of the pods but to simply study the emissions produced through different methods of making one cup of coffee.

“We did not write this article to encourage people to use pods/capsules (we even suggest using reusable capsules) or to stop drinking coffee,” Viana wrote in an email to the outlet.” The goal was to focus on the major problems with coffee consumption at the consumer level.”

In the study, the researchers tracked the carbon footprint generated through several popular methods of coffee brewing — from the point the coffee is grown to the disposal of waste after the cup has been consumed.

According to their findings, traditionally filtered coffee created more greenhouse gas emissions than pods, French press, and instant coffee, largely because the machines used to brew the coffee tend to use more electricity to keep the water and brewed coffee warm.

The findings also showed it is more likely that consumers will use more coffee or water than needed for one cup when using filtered coffee machines. 

The research appeared to conclude that single-use pods are not as harmful to the environment as they are frequently criticized for being. The conclusion was met with celebration on social media and received positive coverage across several media outlets.

However, research on the environmental impact of coffee brewing has produced mixed conclusions. NPR cited a 2021 study that concluded the exact opposite, that single use pods are responsible for more emissions than other brewing methods because of the waste produced when creating the packaging and disposing of pods after they are used.

Environmental studies professor Max Boykoff told NPR that companies which produce coffee pods play a much larger role harmful emissions than the average consumer, and said he believes there are much bigger environmental priorities than changing how people drink coffee.

“Shaming one another about the ways in which we brew coffee or whether we drink coffee at all, I think, actually, really does some damage and distracts us from some real challenges at hand, some real work that ought to be done,” he told NPR.

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