As capsule coffee grows in popularity, so too does the mountain of capsule waste. Almost all coffee capsules are composed of a mix of materials and so cannot go in with ordinary recycling. If disposed of in the rubbish, they can take as long as 500 years to break down.

In 2014, Mintel found that 14% of British people (3.7 million households) own and use a capsule drinks maker. By 2016, according to The Grocer, that figure had risen to 30% of the population. During that time, provisions for capsule waste remained a very low priority.

Now, consumers can help tackle the problem by using systems put in place by manufacturers to return and recycle capsules.  

Do you have a Lavazza capsule machine? In November 2019, the company launched Eco Caps coffee capsules. It plans to replace all of its capsules in the UK with Eco Caps in the near future. You can buy them from Amazon.

Eco Caps are suitable for industrial compost. This means that if you live in an area with food waste collection, you can put used capsules in with your food rubbish.

The company claims that the capsules will break down – after processing – in approximately six months.    

Bear in mind that the Eco Caps are industrially-compostable only. They must go in the food waste for council collection. You can't turn them to mulch in your garden.

Lavazza has also partnered with TerraCycle, a company that specialises in handling hard-to-recycle rubbish. If you don’t have access to a food waste collection, you can drop off your used Eco Caps at a public drop-off location near you. TerraCycle has information about public drop-off points on its website. You can use the map on its site to find your nearest drop-off point, or you can set up a public drop-off point of your own. 

Lavazza is the first of the big coffee companies to come up with a capsule that will break down after processing in a municipal facility. All other used capsules must be returned to dedicated facilities created by their manufacturers.

Nestle has begun to take steps to stop its used pods from ending up in landfill. If you have a Nespresso or a Nescafe Dolce Gusto coffee machine, you can send back your used capsules. Here's how.

If you buy Nescafe Dolce Gusto capsules from the online shop, they'll add two recycling bags to your order. Put your used pods into a bag and when it's full, use the website to find your nearest CollectPlus drop-off point – there are 7,000 of these in the UK. The used plastic capsules will be recycled into new manufactured goods.

Nespresso machine owners have three methods of recycling their used aluminium pods. The first is to drop them off at the recycling point in any Nespresso store. The second is to use one of the UK CollectPlus or in-store Doddle points. (There is a different network of pick-up points in Ireland. People in the Channel Islands can drop them off at main Post Office branches.)

You can also request a recycling bag when ordering online or via the Nespresso customer helpline (have a look at its customer care details here). You can then ask for your used capsules to be collected from your home or office.

The coffee, aluminium and plastic bag are separated and sorted. The coffee grounds are turned into compost and the aluminium reused. At the moment, only 28% of Nespresso aluminium capsules are sent to be recycled. However, that figure is on the rise as more people become aware of return options. 

Bosch Tassimo and L'OR owners can use TerraCycle Hub and Spoke locations to drop off their used DISCs, refills and capsules. Visit the Tassimo/L'OR section on the TerraCycle website to find your nearest drop-off point. The used items are cleaned and remoulded to make new products.