Drowsy German bureaucrats in Hamburg will soon have one less option for a mid-afternoon caffeine jolt, after the city banned single-serve coffee machines such as Nespresso from government buildings. The new regulations have a worthy purpose. They hope to defend the environment, under the assumption that the use and disposal of thousands of tiny coffee capsules or pods leads to "unnecessary resource consumption and waste generation."
A backlash against coffee pods has been, ahem, brewing for awhile. According to a statistic cited by everyone from the Atlantic magazine to National Public Radio, Green Mountain spit out 8.5 billion of its K-cup coffee pods in 2013 -- enough to circle the Earth 10.5 times. Campaigns, petitions, and high-minded op-eds have attacked such profligacy, turning the humble coffee pod into an environmental bogeyman on par with bottled water.
But lost amid this fervor is any perspective about how to measure the environmental impact of the stuff we consume. There's a real question whether high-profile product bans -- of water bottles, plastic bags or coffee capsules -- risk causing more damage than they prevent.