The lowdown on biodegradable coffee capsules

For the past month or so I’ve been exploring methods of reducing the household waste I generate — both that which goes to landfill and that which needs to be recycled.

Because, while it’s essential to reduce landfill, and recycling is certainly the better option, I believe the best option is to reduce waste all together. Recycling, after all, takes energy and resources that could be better deployed.

So… one of the first areas I’ve addressed is coffee capsules.

I would like to say that I’ve stopped using coffee capsules all together. I wish I could. But now that I’m all accustomed to flat white coffees at home (with my trusty milk frother) I cannot give them up. And my Nespresso machine with its capsules just makes it so easy and convenient and clean. (I simply detest dealing with coffee grounds.)

So I’m not giving up my coffee capsules.

The good news is that Nespresso’s aluminium capsules are recycled by Nespresso if you send them back via their stores (and participating florists). The coffee grounds go to compost and the aluminium is recycled. Excellent. Much better than landfill.

But recycling is a resource and energy-intensive process. There’s the collection and transport of the capsules, the machine to crack them open and separate the materials, then the melting down and reprocessing of the aluminium. All that energy. How much better is that than landfill?


As soon as I became aware of ecoCaffe, an Australian company that distributes Swiss-made Ethical Coffee Company biodegradable coffee capsules that are compatible with Nespresso machines, I resolved to give them a try.

According to ecoCaffe’s website, the capsules are made primarily from vegetable fibre and starch and degrade within 180 days in industrial composting. Sounds great, right? That’s way better than 150-200 years for aluminium capsules (if you don’t recycle them) and 500+ years for plastic capsules (which clearly should never be used again).

I ordered a couple of boxes. They came. I drank coffee.

Out of the two different roasts I ordered, I quite liked one and didn’t much like the other. Neither come close to my favourite Nespresso capsules (arpeggio — the purple one, and indriya — the olive one).


This is not to say it’s bad coffee, but coffee is a personal thing, right?


The other thing that disappointed me was the packaging. The capsules themselves are fine — they feel a little plasticky and have a papery filter, but I trust them when they say they biodegrade, because the global standard is very strict. But the 10 capsules were double-packaged in a plastic bag and a cardboard box. With my current mission to minimise soft plastic packaging this was a big black mark.

When it comes to disposal of the used capsules, I have thrown all 20 capsules used so far into my worm farm. I don’t think I’ll be able to throw them all in there (assuming I purchase some more), but I’m interested to see how they go in a home composting situation.


Other disposal alternatives include: 1) to put them loose in my general garbage bin, although my understanding is that landfill conditions are not optimum for composting or biodegradation; 2) throw them in my green waste bin (according to their website), but I feel I should check with my council first before I start doing that.

Overall, I still have some things to work out, but I will persevere with another round of these capsules soon. I confess that in the meantime I’ve ordered another batch of Nespresso capsules, which will of course get recycled, but… I would really like to find a viable biodegradable option.

Update 18 July

From discussion generated by this post, I am now investigating stainless steel capsules! There are a few options on eBay can be refilled and reused unlimited times. I figure I might be able to handle coffee grounds on that scale. Will report back in time.

A new cafe is always good

FEEDING THE MUSEThere’s a new cafe just opened in my local shopping strip (like, yesterday), and today I got to check it out for its “office” potential.

I didn’t have time to linger and write or anything, being somewhat under the pump with work this week; but I’ve established I am far more productive overall if I get out of the house on any given day. I swear this is not simply a rationalisation of my need for someone else to cook me eggs and make me coffee (although there’s a teeny part of that). I seriously need the fresh air and (today, at least) sunshine and a good half hour (15 minutes each way) of walking. Besides, today I also needed to pick up some milk and groceries for dinner.

So. Today. New cafe. 🙂

The good

It has WiFi. In fact my phone automatically connected, because it’s the same network as that maintained by the previous restaurant. This makes it a good option for those days when the work stuff keeps encroaching and internet helps.

It is large. This is important if I’m going to hang about for hours, so I don’t feel as though I’m taking up a table. Mid-week it should be good. And it has bench style seating along one of the walls, which is the section I’ll be heading for next time (to join the guys already ensconced with their MacBooks).

The staff are really friendly (and I think they might be hipsters). Anyway, they’re keen and enthusiastic, so I get the feeling they’ll be happy to have some regulars hang out with computers.

On the other hand…

It’s noisy, what with the polished concrete floors and all. The overall vibe is OK, but it is only day 2 so it may improve. I think the venue is a bit sterile and boxy for me to be truly relaxed.

The menu is fairly limited. Again, they may be starting easy with the view to expand. It has breakfast (eggs) served until 3pm, which isn’t too bad. I ended up ordering a simple poached eggs with mushrooms (which was very nice), but I’ll be looking for the menu to diversify or I’ll be getting really bored. What is there is pretty classy though (just not so much for me), and they make a point of mentioning free range, local produce etc, which is a big tick.

The coffee

The coffee was good, if not my favourite coffee in the area. This is not a comment on its quality, more my personal taste. (There is a difference.) I’m certainly very happy to drink it — although hope they get large cups soon. There was latte art too, which is fairly essential in my area these days!

The verdict

I can see this new cafe being a good option for when I feel like a change of scene from my usual writing cafe — or when I think I’m going to need WiFi. Sometimes, when I get busy, I do hit a cafe to work, simply because I get sick of being home all the time.

But I don’t think it will be supplanting my “happy place” cafe anytime soon. Still, it’s nice to have yet another option.

Nothing beats a Melbourne coffee (or an Australian red)

I make no secret of the fact that I drink a lot of coffee. And, since I live in Melbourne, why wouldn’t I? Not only are we the world’s most livable city (for the fourth year in a row), we have the BEST coffee.

My signature beverage is a large (double shot) skim flat white — with latte art! Check out the lion.

Latte lionI spend a lot of time in my local cafes. I work from home, so it’s a great way to get out of the house each day, grab some light exercise, sunshine and fresh air as I walk down the street, transition from ‘work’ (home office) to ‘writing’ (cafe). Both forms of work are important to me for different reasons, so I’ve developed a daily routine that allows me to achieve both, while indulging my addiction to good Melbourne coffee.

And when I’m not in a cafe, there’s my trusty home nespresso machine.

Although I try to limit my coffee intake, I’m on an average of four double-shot flat whites a day at the moment… I was going for three a day, but my extended cafe sojourns are seeing me order a second coffee more often than not. It doesn’t seem to be affecting me too much…

wineMy other potion of choice would have to be red wine. In fact, I spent some time this evening sorting out the latest delivery, which involves cutting out ‘tasting notes’ and sticking them to the bottles, along with the date of when to drink each bottle. I have around 10 cases stacked in my wardrobe (right), and these get cycled round to ensure the wine gets a bit of ‘cellaring’ before it’s drunk. I’ve been doing this for about 10 years now, and it works wonderfully well.

I never run out of wine!

My wine club Wine Selectors is fabulous. All its wines are selected by an expert tasting panel, so every wine is excellent. You can order on demand online, or you can do what I do, which is have regular deliveries. I receive four cases a year of the “regional series”, which is always mixed reds from one of Australia’s many winemaking regions. And I receive four half-cases a year of the “winemaker series”, which also comprises mixed reds, but of higher quality.

And I sometimes order periodic specials on demand, when I start to run low of ‘drink now’ bottles.

Coffee. Wine. Life just wouldn’t be the same without them. What is your signature beverage?

(This post was brought to you by today’s WordPress Daily prompt, “pick your potion”.)

The many things I like about Exeter

After a short break from travel posts, here’s another from my recent trip. Today I want to tell you all about Exeter, the historical administrative capital of  Devon which I took a particular shine to.

Exeter is a city with a strong connection to the past. Its position on the River Exe made it a prosperous river port as far back — perhaps even further — as the Romans. Later it rose to prominence on the back of the medieval woollen cloth trade. Then it got itself a spectacular cathedral and now it’s a university town.

As a result it is one of those ancient cities with so many layers it’s like peeling back the layers of an onion. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the old city wall. Originally built by the Romans, it was later added to and expanded by the Saxons and then the Normans. This section of wall shows evidence of the different types of stone used during the different eras…

Exeter wall

We did the ‘wall walk’ on our first afternoon in Exeter. We grabbed the map from the tourist office and followed it all through the streets of the city. It was a fabulous way to orient ourselves — strolling about a city is my favourite thing to do, particularly if there’s a self-guided tour to give me a focus and some information.

The following day we joined a free two-hour ‘red coat’ walking tour around ‘medieval Exeter’. This focused on the history of the woollen cloth trade, and ranged from the ancient Stepcote Street (one of the original main roads into the city), the guildhall, the old Medieval Exe Bridge, and down to the old Quayside area. The tour also took in several old houses and the magnificent Exeter Cathedral (which we went back to later in the day to see inside).

On top of actually producing the wool from the surrounding farms, Exeter was known for weaving the cloth (a cottage industry) and was also the central point in the region for ‘finishing’ the woollen cloth (including serge), supplied from towns all around. This process evidently required urine in significant quantities. Villagers used to collect the family urine in a pot so they could sell it — leading to the origin of the phrase “too poor for a pot to pee in”. Heh.

Another expression — to be on “tenter hooks” — is derived from the hooks upon which the woven and finished cloth was hung to stretch and dry. The longer the cloth, the more it could be sold for.

As if all that history wasn’t enough for us, Exeter has a wonderful modern cosmopolitan vibe as well. We found a cool clothes shop, where we spent a happy half hour trying stuff on (I bought a skirt), some craft shops in the old port area (we bought jewelry), and a great coffee shop as well — the Exploding Bakery. I found this place (not quite a cafe, more a wholesale bakery) en route to and from our hotel. It just looked like my kind of coffee shop. And so it proved, having the first ‘flat whites’ I came across in the UK. (Although not, alas, much of a menu, other than cake! Not necessarily a problem…)

It’s funny actually. Whenever we did find a place with our definition of good coffee, and then revealed we came from Australia, they looked interested. But when we revealed we came from Melbourne, the barista would invariably look nervous and claim to feel under pressure. We just said we were grateful for good coffee! (For the uninitiated, the Costa Coffee and other franchises seem to have taken over in the UK. And they’re not pretty. My tip is to search out the independents. Especially the ones with Australian baristas! Trip Advisor proved a help in this regard.)

So that was Exeter. My kind of city. I could definitely live there quite happily I think.

What do you like to discover about a city when you travel? What’s your strategy for revealing a city’s soul?


A good SIGN for a hungry traveller

I was flicking through a bunch of travel photos just last week and came across a pic of this fabulous sign, and made a mental note to drag it out if/when the WordPress weekly photo challenge called for a sign.

Surprise! I didn’t have to wait very long — the blog gods clearly heard me, and that’s the theme for this week (The sign says)!

Found in Ronda, Spain

Found in Ronda, Spain

I found this sign while walking along the streets of Ronda in Spain. It probably doesn’t need much explanation as to why it appeals to me…

For those who haven’t been there, Ronda is a really cool little town in Andalusia. It’s located on top of a high precipice, split by an awe-inspiring canyon, and features a rather spectacular bridge. It has strong Moorish and Christian influences in its architecture and archaeology. Here’s a link to a post I wrote about it (Ronda proves a revelation) when I visited in 2010.

So… if you saw this sign as a weary and dusty traveller, what would you do?


Over at Liv Rancourt’s blog

There’s lots of blog love going around in my world at the moment. Just as I hosted S.M. Nonnemacher here on Friday, so have I appeared as a guest over on Liv Rancourt‘s blog.

Liv, who is a Seattle-based author of speculative fiction, asked me to share some insights on what it’s like to live in Melbourne — which was last year named the world’s most livable city by The Economist.

I was delighted to share my thoughts as to why we might have received this accolade. Naturally I feel it has much to do with… coffee.

Read the post here.