10 Ways to Recycle or Dispose Coffee Makers, Grounds, Pods, Filters, Etc
If you brew a lot of coffee, you’ll notice you generate a lot of waste — coffee grounds, filters, pods, capsules, and even the coffee makers themselves.
But don’t worry. A lot of coffee waste is compostable, recyclable, or reusable.
We’ll teach you how to keep your environmental footprint small without sacrificing your caffeine habit in this article. You’ll even save yourself some money in the process!
How to Recycle Coffee Maker
There are two reasons you might want to get rid of your coffee maker: either it no longer works, or you’re ready for an upgrade. If your coffee maker still works, don’t dispose of it at all. Take it to one of your local Goodwill stores or pass it along to a friend in need. From an environmental standpoint, reusing a kitchen appliance trumps recycling.
On the other hand, if your coffee maker is no longer working, the odds are that even your most desperate friends won’t want to take it off your hands. In this case, recycling the coffee maker is the best bet.
To recycle coffee makers, assuming we’re talking about electronic coffee makers, you’ll probably need to take them to a local recycling facility for proper disposal. The specifics of this will vary by state and country but should be the same as when you recycle small appliances.
Electric coffee makers are E-waste; thus, you should not throw them in the trash.
Pro tip: Another great option? Consider upcycling! Upcycling is when you renew a product by giving it a whole new purpose, like turning those ripped jeans into denim shorts. Think about turning your old coffee maker into a planter or watering system for your houseplants.
If you’re looking to dispose of a non-electric coffee maker, like a French press, pour over brewer, or percolator coffee pot, you might be able to make use of the curbside recycling bin options in your jurisdiction to recycle coffee makers. Just make sure the coffee maker is clean and separate its components by material: plastic, glass, and scrap metal.
How to Recycle Coffee Pods
When it comes to ease of recycling and disposal, not all coffee capsules and pods are created equal.
Let’s start with the ubiquitous K-Cups. Once upon a time, Green Mountain promised that all K-Cups would be recyclable. So far, they have not followed through on this promise. And even where K-Cups are recyclable, the recycling program is not straightforward. You’ll need to peel off the foil lid, dump the coffee grounds, and then separately recycle the plastic cup. Given that most people buy Keurig brewers because they want the ultimate convenience, it’s no surprise that K-Cups continue to end up in the landfill, where they have considerable adverse environmental effects.
Fortunately, Green Mountain is no longer the only name in the game. If you have a Keurig brewer and want an environmentally friendly brew that’s no less convenient, check out other brands offering recyclable or biodegradable K-Cups.
Nespresso capsules are significantly better. For starters, they are made entirely of aluminum, no plastic. But more importantly, Nespresso has worked hard to establish an in-house recycling program that’s as easy to use as their coffee machines.
You can order a free Nespresso recycling bag shipped to your home. Once you’ve filled it with used capsules, just drop it off at one of the hundreds of collection points around the world, where it will be shipped free back to Nespresso recycling facilities. You don’t even need to rinse out the ground coffee! Once the used pods arrive at Nespresso, they separate the grounds as compost and recycle the aluminum (1).
The other standard coffee pods are ESE pods, also called coffee pods, which resemble large tea bags. These are fully compostable, which makes them the most convenient option for safe disposal.
How to Compost Coffee Filters
For the most part, yes, you can compost coffee filters, as long as they are standard paper filters without any special coatings or additives. The high carbon content of paper filters makes them a healthy addition to your compost. Don’t be if you’re worried that some paper filters are bleached or contain trace amounts of other chemicals. They’re present in far-to-minute quantities to have any impact on your soil.
Pro tip: To help paper filters break down faster, it’s a good idea to shred them into smaller pieces when you add them to the compost pile.
Can you reuse coffee filters?
Yes, you can reuse paper coffee filters, though not indefinitely. Alan Adler, the inventor of the AeroPress, famously reused his AeroPress filters for multiple brewing cycles, although he had access to unlimited filters (2).
I would typically use the same filter for about a week and that was maybe about fifteen pressings. We got an email from a guy in the Navy that lived on an aircraft carrier who said he used them for months.
To reuse a paper filter after brewing a coffee pot, first wait for it to cool down. Rinse the now empty filter with fresh water and allow it to dry until you’re ready to brew again. Then dispose of the used coffee grounds, ideally using one of the methods below.
The number of times you can reuse a filter depends on the sturdiness of the paper used, but in general, 2 or 3 uses are probably the most practical.
Pro tip: Instead of reusing paper filters, consider investing in a cloth or metal mesh filter.
How to Use Used Coffee Grounds
Far and away, the most popular use for used coffee grounds is to add them to your garden, where they provide multiple benefits. They add vital nutrients like nitrogen and potassium to the soil, help absorb heavy metals, and attract earthworms.
But if you don’t have a garden, you aren’t out of luck. There are plenty of creative uses for used coffee grounds.
For example, bowls of coffee grounds can control odors or act as a natural insect repellent. Another everyday use is a body scrub, often mixed with other kitchen staples like honey and oatmeal. The coarse coffee grounds are exfoliating, while the residual caffeine perks up your skin. In the same vein, coffee grounds can be used as a household scrub for cleaning sinks, showers, and stubborn pots and pans.
Pro tip: A particularly clever use for coffee grounds is as a tenderizer for meat. Coffee contains natural acids and enzymes that break down tough meat, and as a bonus, it adds a delicious roasted flavor that pairs incredibly well with red meat. Try it at your next barbeque! Just add them to a dry rub.
With the information in this article, you can cut your coffee waste to near zero. You’re going to save money, ease the pressure on landfills, and enhance your garden. You might even exfoliate your skin or grill up a mean steak! So go ahead and enjoy that coffee (or two or three) guilt-free.
Yes, you can use coffee capsules. Simply reinsert the used capsule into the machine and run another brew cycle. This works better with stronger flavored capsules like Nespresso as opposed to the weaker K-Cups.
E-waste is the name given to any electronic product that is at the end of its lifespan. In the past century, our use of electronics has grown tremendously, and the build-up of E-waste in landfills is a growing problem (3). That’s why it’s increasingly essential to dispose of electronic materials and small appliances properly.
Often, but not always, more expensive coffee makers last longest. In particular, like any small appliance, those with more metal and less plastic should be more durable. Of course, for a genuinely long-lasting coffee maker, look for something non-electronic, like a French press, Moka pot, or percolator.
- Rawes, E. (2021, March 19). How to recycle or reuse Nespresso pods. Retrieved from https://www.digitaltrends.com/home/how-to-recycle-or-reuse-nespresso-pods/
- Levy, S. (2015, March 16). First Alan Adler Invented the Aerobie. Now He’s Created the Perfect Cup of Coffee. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2015/03/first-alan-adler-invented-the-aerobie-now-hes-created-the-perfect-cup-of-coffee/
- Semuels, A. (2019, May 23). The World Has an E-Waste Problem. Retrieved from https://time.com/5594380/world-electronic-waste-problem/