Having officially declared a climate emergency in July 2019, the Council committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. A Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan set out sustainable best practice measures to be adopted.
As part of this drive, the Council expanded its waste management service and increase kerbside recycling rates. In January 2022, a weekly coffee pod recycling service was successfully introduced, in partnership with Podback. In its first year alone, the scheme collected more than 25 tonnes of pods from 4,000 households across the borough – effectively diverting these from general waste for repurposing.
Across the UK, c.5.3 million households own a coffee pod machine, with more than two billion pods sold every year. But while coffee consumption is at an all-time high, there is widespread consumer uncertainty about what to do with used pods. Research conducted by YouGov on behalf of Podback found that more than a third (35%) of coffee pod consumers were not aware that pods can be recycled, while nine in ten (90%) admitted that they’d like to be able to recycle their coffee pods through their usual household recycling services.
For local authorities and their waste management partners, their small size and the fact that they contain wet coffee grounds makes pods difficult to recover and recycle using current municipal material recovery systems. This means that pods are widely regarded as a contaminant, ending up in residual waste stream.
Ipswich Borough Council was the fifth UK local authority to launch a dedicated coffee pod collection scheme in partnership with Podback. Christopher Taylor – Head of Waste and Fleet Services, commented: "With a clear drive to increase kerbside recycling rates, we work hard to embrace best practice solutions and Podback really appealed. While coffee pods only comprise a small fraction of household waste, any new and innovative solutions to help residents reduce, re-use and recycle more is something we are keen to adopt, and Ipswich residents have really engaged with Podback.”
To enable pods to be collected as part of the weekly household waste and recycling service, specialist cages were installed on the council’s fleet of 14 refuse and recycling vehicles. Podback worked with the council team to develop a three-month communications campaign to launch and promote the service.
Two weeks before collections were due to start, households across the borough were sent a leaflet explaining the new service encouraging them to sign up and receive their Podback recycling bags.
A second reminder leaflet was sent out six weeks after the service launched, prompting those who were yet to register to do so. As COVID-19 restrictions were still in place during the launch period, additional promotion relied heavily on digital channels, and in particular social media channels (namely Facebook and Twitter).
Amplifying the message by boosting the planned Facebook content for a week not only had an immediate impact on household registrations, but also generated positive engagement from residents who used the platform to ask questions and share the information with their friends and followers. Similarly, a geotargeted email from Podback founder brand Nespresso to customers in the Ipswich area also drove registrations and awareness of the new service.
During the initial 12-week launch campaign, 3,500 residents signed up for the programme.
Registrations have grown consistently since, with more than 4,400 households now registered after one year in operation. To date, more than 25 tonnes of pods have been collected from households, effectively diverting them from the general black bin waste disposal.
The Local Authority perspective
Reflecting on the partnership, Christopher Taylor added: “When we first met with the Podback team, we were a little concerned about the appetite locally for a Borough-wide collection scheme for coffee pods. There were preconceptions that maybe Ipswich residents didn’t use the machines at home, so would not sign up to the service. However, it’s fair to say now that we made an excellent decision to introduce the scheme! One in three households in the UK own a pod machine and, with sustainability such an important part of everyday life now, preventing unnecessary waste is important so demand for our pod collection service has rocketed since first being introduced.
“From day one, we saw the initiative as a 50/50 partnership. By installing specialist cages on our existing vehicles, rolling-out the programme was quick and easy. The support from Podback when it came to promoting the campaign was really valuable too – especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when communicating with householders was more difficult.
“We’ve been really pleased with the programme so far and would absolutely recommend Podback adoption to other local authorities. Alongside offering residents an additional recycling stream, it’s allowed us to direct more from residual waste – aluminium, plastic and food (the coffee grounds).