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Coffee pods are awash with compostable greenwash

Coffee pods are awash with compostable greenwash

Are you a victim of greenwashing? If you use biodegradable coffee pots, there is a big chance you are. Here are a few tips to look out for

What is greenwashing? I describe greenwashing as a strategy used to market  products based on false environmental claims or eye-catching ‘green’ branding. Like many other markets, the coffee pod market is rife with it and it's not always obvious.

As more Australian’s are putting green credentials and the environment at the top of their shopping lists, problematically, governments and agencies have been slow or unwilling to regulate, or at least properly police the space. The lack of oversight gives near free-rein to companies who want to use ‘green’ marketing to push sales. So unfortunately, brands use green messages to sell more products, and confusion is rife. 


Do you buy products who claim “biodegradable and compostable”?

With enough time and heat, nearly anything, aside from stainless steel and precious metals can return to earth — I’m talking 500 years long time and volcanic type heat. That's biodegradable. By buying compostable, the question we’re actually trying to answer is; can the product actually return to earth as nutrient rich compost in a reasonable time at a reasonable temperature? 

Contrary to what we’re marketed to believe, products with biodegradability claims will not turn into compost or degrade if they’re sent to landfill. The landfill degradation claim is is complete rubbish if you will pardon the pun. Landfills are designed to stop degradation, so even when you throw away your banana peels they can be found years later buried in landfills. 

How do you beat the marketing hype and buy responsibly?

Be sure the claims are very specific. Not just alluded to in a sentence about composting generally. Look for the Australian Certifications. The Australian Bioplastics Association issues a seedling logo for home compost and industrial compost. ( also allows products to self declare home or industrial compostable, on the understanding that claims are specifically legal, not confusing and consistent.)

The Home Compost logo or claim means that the product will degrade in your home compost. The Industrial Compost logo or claim means that the product needs to be sent to an industrial composting facility. (Note that most industrially compostable items will not compost at home. If an item claims to be compostable, but does not specifically say Home Compostable, you can safely assume it is Industrial.)

Be aware that a product must have the formal certification to be accepted in Australian industrial composting facilities. There are now several councils and organic waste facilities in accepting certified compostable so buying these products is becoming a feasible option for some Australians where it hasn’t been in the past.

A side note on “ethical”, “clean”, “eco-friendly”

The most common of the green-sins is the use of vague terms. You’ll see these littered throughout the grocery aisles: eco-friendly, green, environmentally conscious, responsibly sourced. Or my personal favourite, the use of the work "organic" as part of the company name.

This is the hardest to combat in a lot of ways, but you can look for labels, icons and certifications. Look for messages that are important to you. e.g. “No inks, dyes or scents.” A very quick google search can be helpful e.g. “Is ______ legitimate?”. Forums on such topics are likely to already exist in your favour. You may have to do a bit more research for answers, but you’ll also be able to give yourself a hug when you beat the system. As you learn more, buying products in overwhelmingly tricky supermarkets will become easier and easier.

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