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13 best eco-friendly coffee pods and capsules for a guilt-free brew

There's no reason why your caffeine fix needs to be bad for the environment with these Nespresso-compatible solutions

Stacey Smith
Friday 16 July 2021 17:30
We tested the brands doing their absolute best for the environment, workers and beyond
We tested the brands doing their absolute best for the environment, workers and beyond

As a nation, our love of homemade coffee is on the rise and coffee capsules can offer the perfect solution when it comes to taste and convenience.

A massive 350 million pods are consumed every year in the UK alone. So, to ensure we’re making the best choices for the planet, we’ve rounded up the best eco-friendly coffee capsules that also deliver on flavour. We’ve focused our search on Nespresso-compatible pods, as these are the most widely used.

There are three main types of “eco” pods to consider – those made of aluminium that need emptying before recycling; re-usable stainless steel, which you fill with freshly ground fine coffee yourself; or compostable. In the latter category you’ll find most pods need to be commercially composted via your food collection bin rather than chucked in your garden before they’ll break down into nutrient-rich soil – although we’ll point out where you can do this.

To confuse matters, not everyone can agree which has the best eco-credentials – with compostable and aluminium, both having their pros and cons. In theory, the chosen material could sound great, but unless you have the facilities and inclination to dispose of your pods as intended, one is really no better than the other.

Mindful of greenwashing (when a company spends more of its efforts claiming to be environmentally friendly than actually doing so) we’ve scratched beneath the claims printed on the box to get to the bottom of the true eco-credentials of each pod. So, you can make an informed choice and enjoy every sip of your well-earned cup.

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Other key differences to look out for is, of course, the coffee itself. Speciality grade arabica refers to the top percentage of coffee harvested in the world.

Just as with your whole or ground beans, roasting profiles differ, producing wildly different results. Lighter roasts will tend to have a brighter, more acidic nature, showcasing the true flavour profile of the beans. The darker a roast, the more intense, bitter notes you can expect to find. Neither has any relevance to the amount of caffeine it contains so don’t be put off if you like the taste of a lighter roast but want your full hit of caffeine.

Looking out for the Fairtrade mark is a great way to make sure farmers are being paid fairly. However, many of the brands we’ve featured pay above and beyond that, particularly when it comes to the speciality grade beans which command a much higher price anyway. The rainforest alliance or UTZ in Latin America are also good certifications to look out for if you want to make sure the best worker conditions.

Every brand will want you to believe its pod is the most eco-friendly, but we’re not convinced it’s as black and white as that. So, we’ve tested the brands doing their absolute best for the environment, workers and beyond.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best eco-friendly coffee pods and capsules for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Roar Gill exotic and rare, 60 pods: £27.50, Roargill.com
  • Best letterbox-friendly pods – Halo Coffee Honduras capsules, 10 pods: £7, Halo.coffee
  • Best subscription coffee pods – Pact Coffee mixed box, 40 pods: £19.95, Pactcoffee.com
  • Best for caramel notes – Origin Coffee house espresso capsules, 10 pods: £5:50, Origincoffee.co.uk
  • Best compostable coffee pods – Toast Coffee discovery box: £39, Toastcoffeepods.com
  • Best decaf coffee pods – Lost Sheep smooth journey compostable coffee capsules, 10 pods: £3.95, Lostsheepcoffee.com
  • Best coffee shop alternative – Grind tin of compostable Nespresso pods, 20 pods: £10, Grind.co.uk
  • Best for berry notes – Volcano Coffee Works coffee pods reserve rich sweet, 10 pods: £7, Volcanocoffeeworks.com
  • Best reusable coffee pods – Sealpod Nespresso reusable coffee pod starter pack: £18.99, Maverickcoffee.co.uk
  • Best plant-based coffee pods – Moving Beans Kenya single origin coffee pods, 10 pods: £3.25, Movingbeans.com
  • Best organic coffee pods – Cru Kafe discovery pack, 60 pods: £20, Crukafe.com
  • Best for chocolate notes – Roast Works Nespresso pod selection pack, 4 x 10 pods: £16, Roastworks.co.uk
  • Best for recycling – Dualit ecopress aluminium capsule recycler: £9.99, Amazon.co.uk

Roar Gill exotic and rare, 60 pods

Best: Overall

Roar Gill is a brand that goes above and beyond. From planting trees to offseting emissions, to roasting its beans using wind and solar power, no stone is left unturned when it comes to improving its eco-responsibilities. It’s even gone so far as to turn down the opportunity to work with certain supermarkets that didn’t share the brand’s eco vision. How’s that for putting your money where your mouth is? The coffee is rather excellent too and we particularly like this exotic and rare pack which contains 30 medium-bodied, light and refreshing pods from Peru and 30 from Brazil’s most sustainable farm that deliver a creamier, nuttier chocolatey persona. The pods themselves are compostable, both industrially and at home.

Halo Coffee Honduras capsules, 10 pods

Best: Letterbox-friendly pods

“The world’s best coffees, in a way that’s best for the world” – quite a claim, but one that Halo happily lives up to with its fully recyclable range of coffee capsules made from waste sugarcane. Using speciality grade coffee (meaning it has scored more than 80 points out of 100), everything – including the pods, the box, even the invoice, is fully compostable at home, without the need for specialist machinery and without having to take anything apart. The pods will degrade in as little as four weeks (as quickly as an apple core!).

Available to buy as a one-off or as a subscription, your delivery will arrive in a letterbox friendly cardboard box, they you can recycle, with the boxes inside wrapped in compostable packets (we know it looks like plastic but rest assured it’s not), helping the coffee to stay fresh.

Rather importantly the pods taste fantastic too. Our favourite is the single-origin Honduras, designed to be drunk short, it has delicious notes of malted milk chocolate and walnuts. These do break down quickly, so they have a tendency to be a little more temperamental in the machine (we’d recommend ejecting the capsule after each use, rather than leaving it in situ until your next brew). Once opened, the pods need to be used within three weeks to maintain freshness – not something we’ve ever had a problem with.

Pact Coffee mixed box, 40 pods

Best: Subscription coffee pods

One of the biggest names in subscription coffee, Pact offers a variety of brew methods, including the aluminium pod. Packaging is completely plastic-free, but you’ll need to rinse, stack and squeeze each pod before popping into your recycling bin. Outside of the actual material used, Pact is conscious of its eco-credentials along the whole supply chain. That’s why it pays its farmers above the Fairtrade price, plant trees to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and it has invested in water filtration systems to ensure that all the water used on its farms is recycled. We’d recommend the letterbox-friendly mixed box which contains four different flavours from light to dark roasts made with beans from Brazil, Colombia, Rwanda and Honduras.

Volcano Coffee Works coffee pods reserve rich sweet, 10 pods

Best: For berry notes

Working closely with farmers who share the brand’s environmental impact goals, Volcano pays above the Fairtrade requirements, providing a reliable and recurring income that enables investment in community projects. With notes of buttery toffee and red berries, the “reserve rich sweet” is a deliciously complex pod, which picked up a coveted two-star Great Taste Award in 2019. Made with plant-based corn starch bioplastic, these pods will need to be added to your food waste collection for the council to dispose of industrially.

Dualit ecopress aluminium capsule recycler

Best: For recycling

Emptying out your aluminium pods can be a messy business, but this nifty machine makes it that bit easier. You simply add each pod, one by one and press down with the top half, which releases the used coffee grounds. After that, all that’s needed is a quick rinse and you can pop it straight into the recycling. The coffee which is collected can be used in the garden as a nutrient-rich fertiliser – win, win! If you do go down the aluminium route, this is an essential bit of kit to speed up the recycling process.

Origin Coffee house espresso capsules, 10 pods

Best: For caramel notes

Recently awarded B-Corp status (the ultimate stamp of approval for sustainable practices), after much consideration Origin Coffee chose aluminium as the best material for its pods. Although 75 per cent of local councils will process these for you, it’s partnered with First Mile, who will take back and organise for any capsules to be recycled in areas where this isn’t possible. Using direct trade, sustainably sourced coffee, the extraction process with these capsules is a little longer, resulting in a noticeable fuller-bodied flavour – patience really is a virtue in this case. Available in either a rich house blend (with notes of caramel, chocolate and nuts) or as decaf.

Toast Coffee discovery box

Best: Compostable coffee pods

With more of us working from home, it’s fair to say we’ve been getting through coffee at a rate of knots. We think Toast’s discovery box is the ideal solution – containing 100 pods across five varieties, it should keep you stocked up for a while. It’s slightly tweaked the roasting profile since the last time we featured the brand. It has also added a new coffee from Papua New Guinea (part of the discovery box) which is a little bit stronger and fuller-bodied, but still silky smooth without any bitterness. The pods are biodegradable so can be disposed of in your compost or garden waste collection, taking a few weeks to break down, dependent on conditions. Containing coffee from the top two per cent in the whole world, sourced from independent growers – every cup we tried was truly delicious and we think, excellent value.

Lost Sheep smooth journey compostable coffee capsules, 10 pods

Best: Decaf coffee pods

Hand roasted in the seaside town of Whitstable, Lost Sheep exclusively uses speciality grade 1 coffee beans in its capsules. To ensure full traceability, the brand works directly with farmers as much as possible, paying above the industry standard to make sure it’s a fair price for all. Looking at the complete life cycle of each pod (rather than just focusing on how they are disposed of), the capsules are made with a by-product from the paper industry that would otherwise be incinerated. This is then taken to a carbon-neutral factory which runs off hydro, solar and wind power where it’s turned into certified plastic-free, industrially compostable capsules (you can compost at home, but it will take longer to break down). Although big fans of both the everyday “smooth journey” and bolder “funky camper” varieties, the decaf was so good we actually went back to check the label, as we were certain we’d made a mistake.

Grind tin of compostable Nespresso pods, 20 pods

Best: Coffee shop alternative

If you’ve ever ordered a flat white or latte in person at one of the Grind’s locations (and chances are you have as it serves around 2 million cups of coffee each year), you might recognise the chocolate and hazelnut notes which goes into the house blend pods. Prefer your coffee straight up? The black blend has more nuanced floral notes and is delicious as a lungo.

Certified organic (meaning no nasty pesticides or chemicals), coffee is ethically sourced from farms around the world before being roasted in London. Available as a one-off purchase or via subscription, the pods are made entirely from bioplastic (plastic produced from renewable sources, such as corn starch) and should be composted industrially (although it can be done at home, expect it to take twice as long depending on your conditions). Even the eye-catching millennial pink tin is designed to be reused, with handy letterbox-friendly refill packs available to replenish your stash.

Sealpod Nespresso reusable coffee pod starter pack

Best: Reusable coffee pods

Arguably, the most eco-friendly pod would be a reusable one. Sure, they take a little longer to prepare and will need rinsing out, but one little pod could last you a lifetime. This starter pack contains one stainless steel refillable pod, the perfect sized spoon to fill and tamper, a pod holder for it to live when not in use and 100 foil lids.

You’ll need to buy finely ground coffee separately, but we’d recommend Maverick Coffee’s “perfect for pod” 250g pouch (£8.95), which will fill about 35 pods. Although the initial outlay may feel more expensive, after that you should see a significant saving. With notes of creamy milk chocolate and hazelnuts, we liked knowing that we were drinking freshly ground coffee. Although it took a little getting used to, we found the pods super easy to clean, just rinse and chuck in the dishwasher once they’ve cooled down.

Moving Beans Kenya single origin coffee pods, 10 pods

Best: Plant-based coffee pods

The love child of a scientist and a coffee fanatic, Moving Beans was created to solve the environmental issue of single-use coffee pods, while also delivering a great tasting option. Made from plant-based materials (sugar cane and sugar beet plants) these pods have been responsibly manufactured to reduce waste and carbon footprint. And the coffee is sourced from Fairtrade supply chains. Containing absolutely no plastic or aluminium, we liked that the words compostable and biodegradable are printed on each pod as it helped us remember how to dispose of them correctly when emptying the machine. The range includes six flavours, but our favourite was the single origin from Kenya which had a good crema and well-balanced acidity.

Cru Kafe discovery pack, 60 pods

Best: Organic coffee pods

We’re big believers of stocking up when you find something you love and this new discovery pack containing 60 pods is the perfect way to explore different tastes across the whole coffee belt. It includes single origins from India, Peru and Colombia, as well as three blends that make up the light, dark and intense roasts. In terms of eco-credentials, the pods are 100 per cent recyclable (again, you’ll need to rinse, stack and squeeze). Aside from that, the coffee is 100 per cent organic and Fairtrade certified so you can be sure farmers are paid a fair price and there are no nasties in your brew.

Roast Works Nespresso pod selection pack, 4 x 10 pods

Best: For chocolate notes

Originally not convinced by the whole coffee pod format, Roast Works eventually capitulated when it realised it was just another great way of making speciality grade coffee more accessible to households (sadly most of us don’t have a live-in barista). So, you can rest assured knowing that these high standards mean only the most characterful flavoured coffee winds its way into each aluminium pod. This selection pack allows you to pick your four favourite boxes (you can double or triple up or get a complete mixture, including decaf). We’re big fans of the two single origins, coming from Kenya (with sweet red berries and chocolate notes) and Sumatra (rich and juicy).

The verdict: Eco-friendly coffee capsules

If after reading our advice you’ve decided compostable is the best option for you, we’d recommend both Halo Coffee and Roar Gill. But, our IndyBest buy is awarded to the latter since it proved the best value. Does aluminium recycling fit in better with your lifestyle? In that case, Origin Coffee capsules taste great – don’t forget the Dualit ecopress aluminium capsule recycler for speedy recycling.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.