Recycling in Style: Nespresso Turning Coffee Pods Into Bicycles

A couple walking with their bicycles.
Nespresso has partnered with a company that recycles their coffee pods by turning them into bicycles. (Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

Coffee pods have long been accused of damaging the environment. According to estimates, around 56 billion single-use coffee capsules end up in landfills every year. To tackle the situation, Nespresso has come up with a unique solution — converting its coffee capsules into bicycles.

The recycled bike from Nespresso capsules

“Through our collaboration with Vélosophy, we’re illustrating to coffee lovers the potential of recycling their aluminium Nespresso capsules. By using recycled capsules to make beautiful bicycles, Vélosophy bring sustainability and style together to create a truly meaningful experience, bringing to life the importance of recycling,” Jean-Marc Duvoisin, CEO of Nespresso, said in a statement (Nestle Nespresso).

Nesoresso capsules are made from aluminum, which can be melted and reused for other purposes. However, the main problem the project faced was finding a way to make the lightweight aluminum used in the capsules into a material strong enough for a bicycle.

Jimmy Östholm, the man behind the bike concept, was able to create a material that met bicycle manufacturing standards. “Different products need different aluminum compositions…but just look at the recycling possibility… Every bit of aluminum that exists could be recycled again into new products. I think that’s really the message here,” he said to QZ.

A material was created from the Nespresso melted aluminum cups that met bicycle manufacturing standards.
A material was created from the melted aluminum in the cups that met bicycle manufacturing standards. (Image: Andrés Nieto Porras via Wikimedia Commons)

The bike comes in a plum color and has a carrier basket in front for holding coffee cups. The company has made 1,000 bikes available to interested buyers. They’re priced at US$1,430, plus shipping charges. For every bike Vélosophy sells, they give one for free to African schoolgirls to improve their educational opportunities.

Nespresso pods take about 150 years to decompose, which makes recycling the capsules critical from an environmental perspective. The company provides recycling programs in over 53 countries. In the U.S., customers can put the capsules in prepaid recycling mailers and drop them off at any of the 88,000 UPS locations spread throughout the country. Prior to making bicycles, the company had converted its coffee pods into things like pens and knives.

Environmental impact

Back in 2016, Hamburg, Germany, banned coffee pods in government buildings. A spokesman stated that the capsules contained 3 grams of waste for every 6 grams of coffee. A former chief executive at Nespresso also admitted that the pods were harmful to the environment. However, a recent study shows that this is only partially true.

Alf Hill, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Bath, studied the different stages of coffee production to identify areas that produce the highest wastage. He found that instant coffee and capsules had the lowest environmental impact, while traditional espresso and drip coffee affected the environment in a much harsher way. “The impact, such as greenhouse gas emissions, water and fertiliser use, mostly occurs where the coffee is grown… Capsules tend to need less coffee input to make a single drink and so their overall impact can be lower even though we see more waste when we throw them away,” he said to Wired.

One researcher found that most of the harmful impact on the environment occurs where the coffee is actually grown.
One researcher found that most of the harmful impact on the environment occurs where the coffee is actually grown. (Image: danramirez via Pixabay)

Sales of coffee pods in the U.S. have surged from 1.8 million units in 2008 to more than 20 million units in 2018. Over 40 percent of American households were found to own an espresso pod machine. Unfortunately, most of these pods go into landfills when they could be recycled.

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