Why The Little Things Matter (or, What We Can Learn From Hamburg) / by The Green Medium

In February of 2016 the city of Hamburg, Germany made waves when it passed legislation in which all forms of single-use coffee pods (K-Cups and the like) were banned from purchase with tax-payers money, and use within Hamburg government buildings. While this announcement may seem relatively minor considering that these single-use coffee pods are only an eighth of the overall coffee consumption in Germany, let us not forget the power of the little things (insert juvenile joke here).

Hamburg is a city of over 1.8 million and is setting a tremendous precedent with this ban as part of it's green procurement strategy. While the coffee pods make up just an eighth of German consumption, it makes up a much larger third of overall European coffee consumption. With the population of Europe close to 750 million people, and European's apparent fondness of coffee, the number of K-Cup users becomes startling. Especially because that's just in Europe, and when taking into account the rest of the world's single-use coffee pod waste, we could cover the circumference of the earth 12 times.

Keurig (of course not the only single-use pod company, but certainly the most prominent) has made a promise to become 80% recycling friendly by 2020 and is increasingly moving towards that target. However, there are some doubts as to the legitimacy of their recycling claims as the mixture of aluminium and plastic is hard to separate in the pods and the 4 layers of plastic make it harder still. Those doubts aside for now, Piotr Barczak, the waste policy officer for the European Environment Bureau put it best when he said “The point with coffee pods isn’t about recycling—it’s about cutting down on the amount of stuff that we need to throw away or recycle.” As we can recall from our elementary learnings of the "3 R's" it goes: Reduce, Reuse, and THEN Recycle. The point isn't always making things recyclable -although that is a great thing- but to reduce as much as we can in the first place. Furthermore, the wealthy inventor of the K-Cup, John Sylvan has publicly stated "I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it." regarding the invention of the pods (burn).

So what can we take away from this? Well, firstly, coffee has more power than we had previously thought. We knew it had the power to make us make do words good and bring joy to those 8am shifts at work, but something as seemingly un-impactful as we how we make a cup of joe (why is coffee called joe?) can save literal tons of physical waste from being produced and likewise for tonnes of carbon. The little things matter, they are the very things that when added up become the big things (just in case you didn't do so hot in grade 1 math).

In this we can remove the shackles of "it's too difficult", "it's too big a problem", and "what can one person do?" What can one person do? You can switch from K-Cups to the french press (it tastes a heckuva too), you can bring reusable bags to the grocery store, you can lobby your local city council to take actions like Hamburg, you can write a blog post sharing environmental musings and news (woah, meta), and so on and so forth.

Let's take heed of Hamburg and make a difference with the little things.

(Is anyone else hungry after all this 'Hamburg' talk?)

Thanks for reading,

Sam Goertz

PS. If you want to write for the Green Medium let me know! We would love to have you, and also you can talk about virtually anything environmentally related, like coffee pods, which is fun.