Odds and pods and sods: The frustrations of living in a throwaway society

You see them in the waiting areas of banks and car dealerships. There may even be donuts next to them. They’re part of a little oasis of hospitality in an otherwise sterile environment. While this is a noble purpose for sure, pod-based coffee machines are devastating to our environment. Convenient, yes, but at what price?

I read somewhere recently that, by 2050, the weight of plastic in the world's oceans will be greater that the weight of fish. Think about that for a minute. Think about it as well the next time you toss that used coffee pod in the trash. I have and I’m not at all happy about it. There has to be a better way.

You should know that I'm in no way a so-called “tree hugger” environmental activist. I’d never spike a tree or go out on a boat to foil fishermen. Yet I care very much about the environment, as we all should.

We have only one planet for our use and the use of our kids and grandkids and their kids. We should learn how to take care of it. Dumping millions of used coffee pods in the oceans every year just because they are convenient is not showing respect for dear old Mother Earth at all.

You can see why pod-based coffee machines are popular in waiting areas. So easy to manage. Pop in a pod, press a button, and you’re done.

Yet I heard a woman justify their use in her home because she didn’t have time to clean out a regular coffee machine. I'm sure she works hard and has a full plate to deal with but, if your life is so busy you don’t have time to clean out a coffee machine, then you are doing something wrong. Really.

I discussed the used-coffee-pod problem with my engineer son-in-law, and he explained to me that they are probably made of special plastic because the water gets so hot. That was interesting, so I called one of the companies that makes these coffee pods.

The company wouldn’t confirm the reason for the plastic used in the pods but did say the company was aware of concerns with pod disposal and promised me that by 2018 it would be changing them to a recyclable material. I suppose that’s good news but that means millions if not billions more will wind up in the ocean until then. Bummer.

There was a post in the zoo that is Facebook the other day that offered tips on what to do with used coffee pods. Like many Facebook posts, it was a “clickbait” thing where, instead of just pointing you to an article or list, you had to click and click and suffer through all kinds of junk advertising to get to the information.

I didn’t have the stomach for that – I never do – but it at least got me thinking about what can be done with used coffee pods. Gardeners can use them for seed starters; they already have a water drain hole. Magicians can use them for sleight-of-hand tricks. Handymen can organize small amounts of hardware. I'm saving mine to make a big stacked, artistic display (think modern art).

Of course, to reuse the pods, you have to get the coffee grounds out of them. This is a messy procedure you do over an open garbage can. It’s not pleasant but if it keeps even a few of these little buggers out of the oceans I can deal with it. If you’re a gardener, save the grounds for your compost.

To be fair, many of these pod-based coffee machines allow you to substitute a special, reusable pod where you can add your own ground coffee. That’s great but, if you are going to use ground coffee anyway, why not just get a regular coffee machine or percolator?

In my case, I’m using a machine my son no longer had a need for, and we have a lot of pods we’ve gotten on sale. I’m not happy with it, but at least I’m keeping the machine itself out of the landfill. Better than nothing.

When you start thinking this way, you can drive yourself crazy. If you go to the landfill, look at the big pile and see what people throw out.

In the old days, so much of this stuff would have been repaired. Today, that’s often not possible because of cost (a replacement product is so cheap) or design (many products are assembled in a way that precludes repair). It’s very frustrating to live in such a throwaway society. It's not right, but what can you do? (Save your used coffee pods for one thing.).

It’s the same thing when I make a very rare visit to a fast-food restaurant. Look at the amount of paper and plastic left over after a typical meal of burger, fries, and a shake. It’s unbelievable. Multiply that by millions and then think of the tremendous load this puts on the waste-management stream. I'm not asking McDonald’s and Burger King to stock fine china, but there has to be a better way.

It’s great that banks and car dealerships think so highly of their customers that they want to provide free coffee for them. I just wish there was a way to do it that was easier on the environment.