A Surprising Side Effect Of Using Coffee Pods

Making coffee in a single-cup coffee machine has many benefits. It's quick and convenient, and it doesn't require much cleaning up. However, coffee pods have gotten a bad reputation when it comes to the environment.

While 50 percent of household coffee is made using drip coffee makers, the second most common technique is with a single-serve brewer like Keurig or Nespresso, making up 28 percent of all household coffee brewing (via Current Research in Toxicology). About one in every four American households has a single-serve brewing machine, which is a whopping 75 million homes (via Story of Stuff Project). Since the disposable cups aren't made of recyclable plastic, tens of millions of pods end up in a landfill each year. 

However, a new study from the University of Connecticut is adding a new focus on the harms of using capsule coffee: hormone-disrupting chemicals. The research team wanted to explore the health effects of consuming coffee that was brewed through a disposable plastic pod.

How heated plastic affects our health

The study, published in Current Research in Toxicology, found that estrogenic chemicals can leach from the plastic and enter your body. These chemicals can mimic estrogen and interfere with the body's hormone regulation. When the plastic is heated and pressurized during the brewing process, it makes a delicious cup of joe, but with a cost: It causes the chemicals to contaminate the coffee, which are then easily digested when you drink your beverage.

As these chemicals produce estrogenic activity in the body, they can lead to many health problems, according to a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. When our hormones are disrupted in this way, it can cause increased rates of some cancers, early puberty, altered reproductive organ performance, and obesity.

That said, we're exposed to these chemicals in plastics regularly, and not just through coffee pods. Everyday items like plastic wrap and baby bottles are culprits, and are especially dangerous when heated (via Environmental Health Perspectives). But since coffee drinking tends to be habitual, it could be more of a concern (via Eat This, Not That). If you're looking for a good alternative, you can try reusable stainless steel coffee pods.