Setting Podback up for continued success in 2024

Mar 8, 2024

Podback Executive Director, Rick Hindley, reflects on the programme's achievements and looks at what lies ahead for the nation's coffee pod recycling service.

When Podback launched in April 2021, the founding members set out to provide coffee lovers across the UK with simple and easy ways to recycle their used pods. I was lucky enough to join the programme shortly afterwards. After more than 30 years working in recycling and packaging, I was drawn to the programme’s ambition and the opportunity to be part of establishing the UK’s first cross-industry programme for recycling coffee pods.

We’ve since expanded our membership to 23 brands, including major retailers and independent roasters; with more in the pipeline set to join. Created to bring the sector together to respond to changes in the recycling environment, Podback is an example of extended producer responsibility (EPR) in action, with our membership now representing over 80% of the UK pod market. We’ve worked with 21 local authorities to launch kerbside collection services in different parts of the country, enabling 1.5 million households to recycle coffee pods as part of their council's regular recycling service.

Since Podback launched, the UK’s waste and recycling landscape has undergone significant changes, with further reforms on the horizon in the form of an EPR scheme for packaging, and standardised - or ‘simpler’ - recycling collections. Together, these policies represent the most significant overhaul of the waste and recycling system for many years.  During this period we’ve learnt a lot, and it is fair to say that we’ve encountered some challenges in establishing kerbside collections - which has meant that our pace in this area has been slower than we intended at the outset. We’ve successfully launched individual kerbside schemes in 21 areas, as well as having - and continuing to have - positive conversations with many more councils and their waste management partners up and down the country, about setting up pod collections.

Ultimately, our long-term vision is for pods to be collected, processed and recycled consistently as part of the national waste and recycling system. However, we know that significant changes to infrastructure and policy will be needed before this is possible. While those changes happen, we want to provide consumers with more opportunity to recycle, while also ensuring Podback is set up to pave the way and best support the delivery of our long-term vision for simple and convenient pod recycling.

Since launch, our collaboration with others has allowed us to explore new collection routes that fit seamlessly within pod users’ daily lives. We have seen a positive response to our in-store drop-off pilot in Morrisons supermarkets, and recent research showed that 77% of pod users would find it convenient to drop-off their Podback bags in supermarkets and coffee shops*.

Additionally, we’ve worked with three authorities to pilot drop-off at Recycling Centres in Birmingham, Suffolk and Berkshire, with encouraging results. For example, at two sites in Berkshire, more than 9.5 tonnes of pods were collected through this route in the first six months.

So, as we look ahead to Podback’s next phase of development, we are focused on evolving the service to learn from, and build on, the past three years. We remain committed to making recycling coffee pods convenient for coffee lovers across the UK.

Key to this will be working with retailers to introduce more in-store drop-off points, allowing people to collect a Podback bag and then return their used pods for recycling as part of their shopping journey. We will also be looking at opportunities to create a greater network across cafes and coffee shops, as well as working with local authorities to bring pod drop-off to the large network of Recycling Centres across the UK. While we focus on this, we will maintain our service in the 21 local authority areas that already have kerbside collections but will not be launching any new kerbside collection schemes.

As the UK recycling environment continues to develop, it is important that we remain focused on setting Podback up for success. Podback’s brand members and local authority partners are fully behind us, and have assured us of their ongoing support and commitment to help us as Podback moves into the next phase of its development. I am confident that this evolution is the right direction for Podback, and will move us forward in our mission of ensuring every coffee pod enjoyed, is recycled.

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*All figures are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2083 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd - 23rd January 2024. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

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