Full Metal Jacket: How many Nespresso capsules are made each year?

by josh orter

Though my preferred method of making coffee differs, I'm not immune to the lure of capsulized convenience when it presents itself at a friend’s house or client’s office. Some produce caustically awful liquids frauding as coffee, including, as a rule, all that feature words like “java” or “joe” anywhere on the packaging (words which also happen to be a superb filter for people, as anyone using either may be safely ignored). However, some pod-using machines like Nespresso can quickly produce satisfying (if aroma-deficient) caffè. And it is to this line of machines our attention turns.

Blur your eyes with certain Nespresso espresso makers and it’s easy to hallucinate a machine gun. Intentional or not, there’s something decidedly weapon-y about the black metal form. And it’s no stretch of imagination if you find yourself firmly cocking a brass-colored Nespresso capsule into place or emptying a pile of spent metal “shells”. It’s nothing if not bullet-like. A capsule, after all, is a cartridge by another name and both propellants work by means of rapidly expanding gases.  


Ammunition is only the half of it for, as the leading image shows, both are made from of a curvaceous combination of metal and polymers ending with a steel barrel. As with guns, the color of choice is overwhelmingly black, although drug dealers and people with questionable taste may choose chrome for either. If it isn’t too obvious to point out, both serve up shots. 

Terminator's weapon of choice

The type it reminds me of most is the gatling variety, specifically the M134 Minigun, perhaps because, like Nespressos, they are loud, electrically-driven, and expensive to use. It was during one bleary break-of-dawn that I found myself slouched over the machine making coffee and drifting into visions of the Nespresso hooked up to a belt of ammunition, or a machine gun being fed by a chain of Nespresso capsules. I’m not sure which. Doesn’t matter. What’s important is that it led me to wonder how long it would take to fire all the Nespresso cartridges ever made. The environmentally-conscious will be appalled.

According to a New York Times article published in February, 2012, Nespresso had by then sold more than 27 billion of the capsules since its 1986 introduction. A Nestle fact sheet put out in 2011 reported 6.5 billion capsules sold in just 2010 alone. The consumption rate’s jacked up since, but 7 billion per year seems a safe number to use. So that’s 27 billion + 2 billion a year * 2 more years for a stockpile of 41 billion capsules. This is waste on a spectacular scale.

The Gatlino®, the gun of our imagination based on the real M134, has a maximum firing rate of 4,000 rounds per minute; 66 per second. At this rather insane rate, so tastefully demonstrated in the video below, one might reasonably guess the ammunition would be devoured in a day or so. One would be very wrong, though. 41 billion capsules sucked up at 4,000 rpm works out to more than TEN MILLION MINUTES. This fire-breathing lawn mower would have to operate non-stop for 170,833 hours in order to exhaust the supply. That's 19.49 years. And you'd never even get to the end anyway, even with two of these guns, since Nespresso's factories continue to bang out more than 10,000 capsules every single minute.