According to some estimates, Australians consume at least 3 million single-serve aluminium and plastic coffee pods every day and most of them end up in landfill. One enterprising company is offering consumers a unique closed-loop solution for its premium coffee.
Sydney-based coffee pod company, Tripod Coffee, has a sustainable proposition for its customers: a premium coffee in truly compostable packaging that ends up as green electricity and organic fertiliser.
But there’s a twist: Tripod is asking its customers to pay to properly dispose of their coffee pods.
The team at Tripod – co-founded by former Australian professional cricketers Ed Cowan and Steve Cazzulino – believe people shouldn’t have to make a choice between enjoying delicious, convenient coffee and doing their bit for the environment.
The entrenched market for coffee pods is creating a serious waste issue, says Cowan, which was the inspiration behind the creation of a “green” alternative to Nespresso’s energy-hungry aluminium pods.
“People are using the pods and we want to provide them with an alternative,” says Cowan.
Tripod is targeting the consumer and commercial market, and has already won several tenders to supply coffee pods to award winning luxury hotels across Australia, including celebrity holiday hotspot Saffire, in Tasmania.
Tripod pods, which are Nespresso-compatible, are made of plant-based biopolymers and are Certified Compostable AS 4736, the standard that sets out the requirements for a non-food item to be considered biodegradable.
Most pod companies claim to have recycling programs or say their pods are compostable but have caveats, such as that lids have to be removed or the pods can only be composted in a commercial composting facility.
While Adelaide and Hobart areas offer council driven options for green-bin certified materials recycling, many local councils don’t industrially compost green waste. To empower their customers to properly dispose of their pods, Tripod partners with a Sydney food waste-to-energy facility to convert used pods into a source of green energy or into fertiliser that is sold to the agriculture and horticultural markets.
The facility uses anaerobic digestion to convert Tripod pods into a combustible gas similar to natural gas. The digester gas is then recovered and used as a renewable fuel source in co-generation engines to produce green electricity.
Glenfield Wholesale Nursery, in Sydney, run by horticulturalist Mal Morgan, is an early adopter, using the organic fertiliser produced from Tripod coffee pods.
Customers who don’t live in an area where food scraps are accepted in green bins, can purchase a Reply Paid label with their coffee, which enables them to return used pods to Tripod in a compostable bag, to ensure the pods are properly recycled. The additional cost to the consumer can be mostly offset by points earned via Tripod’s Perks Program.
Tripod sources its coffee from around the world but roasts, grinds and packages it in Sydney, cutting down on food miles. Its Green Gatsby blend is Fair Trade and organic.
Cowan says the local roasting, the lower food miles and the connection to local produce via the compostable fertiliser are all an important part of its offer to customers.
“The coffee is roasted here in Sydney, and as a small local business, our customer service is on tap 24/7 – if you have a question you can call us anytime,” he says.
Tripod is part of the evolving discussion about the responsibility for food and packaging waste. About 25 per cent of its customers are recycling champions who buy the reply paid label and compostable bag. Another group of customers, such as people in South Australia and Tasmania, can throw the pods in their green waste bins.
The company is confident those percentages will increase.
“I think we are in both a fortunate and unfortunate situation in being about three to five years ahead of consumer psyche,” says Cowan.
“The early adopters — those customers who are taking the reply paid envelope and who understand our proposition – are way ahead of the curve. Increasingly, there is no doubt in our mind that the market will have to move to where we are.
“What we are saying is, not only can you have a green conscience but you can have a fantastic coffee experience that is on par if not better than other products at a price point that is better than our competition. All three boxes are ticked. I don’t have to pay extra to have a premium coffee experience and it is in a compostable capsule.
“We have made the decision really easy for consumers who want to engage in the sustainability conversation.”