The K-Cup Conundrum

Almost one in three American homes now has a pod-based coffee machine — with numbers expected to climb this holiday season — and an estimated 65% of those currently owned were built by Keurig Green Mountain. Starting around $63, the machines are really not too expensive. But do you own it, or does it own you? Like razor blades or printer cartridges, the Keurig business model is predicated on disposability and consumer dependence. “It’s like a cigarette for coffee, a single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance.” Keurig founder John Sylvan confessed to The Atlantic in a recent interview.

The best estimates say that in 2014 alone Keurig sold 9.8 billion K-cups (including the new multiple-cup pods), and almost all of them ended up in a landfill. Understandably, conservation-minded consumers are horrified that a company once dedicated to eco-friendly coffee production seems to have gone the other direction entirely. Keurig is quick to defend itself by pointing out that every new K-Cup product that the company has introduced since 2006 is recyclable — if a person is willing to disassemble every cup into paper, plastic, organic and metal components. According to an article by “Mother Jones”, only about 5% of the pods are currently being recycled.

And these recycling issues are exactly why Keurig is losing its chokehold on the ever-growing industry of coffee pods. Canterbury Coffee, a Canadian brand, now makes a pod that it claims is 92 percent biodegradable (everything except the nylon filter). Another Canadian coffee roaster, Club Coffee, recently received the first Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) certification of a completely compostable, Keurig-style, single-serve pod for its PurPod100. This eco-friendly pod is built with plant-based resins and coffee “chaff,” normally considered a food residual that is often dumped by other roasters into landfills.

Keurig has vowed to make all its products completely recyclable by 2020, but other eco-friendly companies in the market might serve to strip their coffee-king crown long before then. So don’t give up on your morning cup of Joe yet!

For information about recycling, composting, and other green-living issues, please contact us.




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