Waste Not, Want Not (But First, Coffee!)

4WKS is an innovative, Cape Town-based coffee pod company which grinds, packs and delivers freshly-roasted coffee in 100% compostable, Nespresso®-compatible pods nationwide. This November, 4WKS has launched yet another innovation in its efforts towards celebrating the best of SA’s vibrant coffee scene – a 100% compostable ziplock pouch that has been designed not only as refill packaging but also as a catalyst for change.

In an effort to have less impact on the planet and greater impact on people, the sustainability-focused company has added this innovative layer to its zero-waste approach to packaging while bringing awareness to the often unseen yet critical issue of waste.

4WKS was launched in 2019 by brothers Daniel and Oliver Pretorius and their cousin Lulu Larché as a local start-up with big ambitions: to challenge the wastefulness and unsustainability of single-use plastic/aluminium coffee pods — over 56 billion of which end up in landfill every year, where they’ll remain for up to 500 years. The trio set out to use the millions of Nespresso® machines already in use to show that pods can be done in a better way, not only through curating the best local coffees (packed fresh and best enjoyed within four weeks) but also to match convenience with mindfulness, and to challenge society’s largely unconscious “grab-go-throw” culture in terms of waste. With its 100% compostable pod, including an innovative paper lid made from vegetable fibres, the company has partnered with local coffee heavyweights — Deluxe Coffeeworks, Father Coffee, Naked Coffee, Rosetta Roastery, Truth Coffee Roasting and Terbodore Coffee Roasters — to make their freshly-roasted coffees available to specialty coffee lovers, in seconds.

When opened and the pods decanted, the innovative new pouch becomes a storage carrier for used coffee pods. Once full, the pouch can then be zipped up and returned to one of the seven compost collection points that 4WKS has set up in the Western Cape; or alternatively, composted — as a complete unit (pouch, pods, coffee) — at home. In partnership with Ywaste, a composting facility in the Western Cape, 4WKS ensures that all pods collected (pouch included) will return to earth in as little as three months.

Says 4WKS co-founder Lulu Larché: “Coffee packaging is notoriously wasteful, and we didn’t want to launch just any other packaging. We wanted to use packaging as a vehicle for change, to encourage transparency in the system and to encourage people — from roasters to coffee lovers — to come together to do better. We saw it as an opportunity for us to be accountable and responsible for our actions, as well as achieve one of our goals which, along with celebrating the best local coffees, is to draw attention to what we use and where/how we throw it away.”

A Small Step in the Big Issue of Waste in SA

South Africa is experiencing a critical waste challenge — and experts concur that it’s up to individuals, legislation and even start-ups to work together to fix it.

It’s estimated that South Africa generates more than 122 million tons of waste a year, equating to roughly R25.2 billion worth of dumped waste. Of this, 90% is disposed of in over-capacitated landfill sites and only 10% is recycled. Almost 40% of all waste that ends up in South African landfills is organic and biodegradable.

Yet organic waste, of any kind, doesn’t belong in landfill.

Breaking down anaerobically, this waste, compressed under the weight of yet more waste, slowly decomposes and produces methane: a harmful greenhouse gas linked to climate change. Organic waste also creates leachate, a pollutant that can run into local water sources at landfills if not managed properly. And, when landfilled, it also represents a significant loss of nutrients that could be used for compost and soil fertilisation i.e., it’s waste that’s wasted.

In the Western Cape alone, roughly three million tonnes of organic waste are produced annually and most of it lands in landfill. As a response to this, and to landfills increasingly running out of airspace, the Western Cape provincial (as well as national) government has passed new legislation requiring a 50% reduction (or ban) of organic waste from landfills by 2022 and a 100% diversion by 2027.

The Power of Consumer Mindfulness & Collaboration

4WKS’ new compostable packaging is a small but significant step in the direction of shifting habits and bringing about more consciousness when it comes to waste, while at the same time encouraging the habit of composting. This is because, at the very start, in order to be able to effectively compost organic waste, it needs to be source-separated. Says Emile Fourie, owner of Ywaste: “What makes the 4WKS’ compostable pouch so amazing is that it starts to embed this kind of thinking at the source and, in reducing contamination, is the first step in ensuring that waste is being treated in a way in which it’s not wasted, but turned into something valuable.”

4WKS co-founders Daniel Pretorius and Oliver Pretorius add: “We’ve always said that 4WKS is ever-evolving and will keep innovating. There are always limitations — such as the current lack of commercial composting facilities outside of the Western Cape — but we’re making headway to have real impact by stepping closer to the purpose we set out to achieve in the first place, which is about shifting coffee, habits and culture.”

In collaboration with its network of roasters and growing community of ‘coffee snobs who love the planet’, as well as Ywaste, 4WKS is working to bring attention to waste, one pod at a time, and of course celebrating, supporting, and proving that local is always where it’s at.

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