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Does our coffee cup runneth over?

We celebrated my mother’s birthday last weekend. My father got her a special gift that put an instant smile on her face; a Nespresso coffee maker. The shiny, red machine sits proudly atop the kitchen counter, and has caffeinated (too) many people in our family over the last week. But now I wonder; what happens when it runs out of steam?

I’ll start with a confession. For as long as I can remember, I have loved coffee. Cream, two sugars. Throw in some rum or Baileys on a rainy winter day and I’m good to go. (I tried it with a small scoop of peanut butter recently – it was an odd but tasty combination of flavours.)

These days, I prefer a latte macchiato. I order them (blonde roast) at Starbucks with a big dollop of whipped cream when I want to indulge. Some coffee snobs I’ve met argue what I pour into my cup doesn’t qualify as coffee as I don’t drink it black. That’s coffee culture for you.

Judging from the countless coffee shops I’ve visited during my travels, I know I’m one of many people across the world who down the warm beverage every single day. In fact, the global market for coffee machines was worth US$ 15.5 million (EUR 13.7 million) last year. Trend watchers expect it to reach 20.5 million by 2028.

And let’s not forget the fancy fully automatic types of machines, used at restaurants, bars and businesses; this commercial segment topped US$ 4 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach US$ 5.2 billion by 2026.

Seems we can’t get enough of this brown gold. While second-life phones and computers have firmly integrated themselves into our society, I was surprised to see there are stores dedicated to selling refurbished coffee machines. Take Whole Latte Love, for example. The online shop currently has over 13 pages full of revived espresso machines in its portfolio.

The US-based company even has a spare parts and components division, allowing people to track down specific filters, displays, power boards, valves and heating elements. You name it, they’ve got it. It’s encouraging to see this level of care being taken after the initial sale has been concluded.

While leading brands like Nespresso are tackling coffee capsule recycling with take-back schemes (Terracycle has partnered with Italian brand Lavazza on a dedicated coffee capsule recycling initiative), they have yet to launch an official return scheme for the devices themselves. Instead, they ask customers to take bring them to local e-scrap recyclers, together with a slew of other unwanted electronics. This feels like an easy way out for a market that is witnessing such rapid and consistent growth.

I’ve asked around and haven’t found a recycler – yet – that targets this particular product type. It would be wonderful to hear stories from the industry about how these beloved household electronics are doing once they reach end-of-life stage.

In case you didn’t know: as of this year, I’m writing a piece about refurbished electronics for every issue of Recycling International. So please reach out to me if you know someone who deserves to be featured! Whether they are helping me nurse my coffee addiction or not…

Note to self: It’s time to sort out your coffee and tea mugs and donate some to goodwill! Not my favourite ones seen below, though. The dark green one marked “Portugal” was gifted to me by the lovely Melissa Kelly from (then) Battery Recycling Solutions. The middle ones I bought in Bangkok and Pattaya after visiting a client — Danieli — in Thailand.

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