K-Cups, the single-cup coffee pods, are growing in popularity, with about one in three kitchens having a single-serve coffee machine. However, some are questioning the impact of the coffee pods on the environment, including the creator of the innovative coffee system.
John Sylvan, who co-created the famous K-Cup design, invented the coffee system as a solution in offices. In an office environment, a coffee maker can be a problem when a variety of employees enjoy different types of coffee. The K-Cup was supposed to make things simpler for workers, allowing them to choose their favorite coffee strength and flavor and make a single fresh cup just for themselves.
However, the convenient coffee option has since made its way into homes, with about thirty-three percent of North American kitchens sporting a single-serve coffee machine on their counter. This includes Keurig, the machine that uses K-Cups to produce a cup of coffee. Some consumers enjoy being able to make a single cup instead of an entire pot when they live in a small household, and others enjoy the wide variety of flavored coffees, teas, and hot chocolates available for the Keurig machines.
As the Keurig and other single-serve coffee machines grow in popularity, though, they are becoming a growing problem for the environment. The coffee or tea inside the pods can be a rich addition to compost, but it is hard to get out of the container that is sealed with a foil top. Most consumers do not even bother. The plastic containers are also not recyclable in most municipalities since it is hard to separate the different components. The containers are not biodegradable either. Some estimates say the number of K-Cups sent to the landfill in 2014 would wrap around the world about twelve times.
In response to the problem of disposable K-Cups, many have taken to social media to urge a boycott of the coffee pods. Faced with a consumer backlash, Keurig Green Mountain, which makes the coffee makers and their associated pods, has promised to make their K-Cups recyclable by the year 2020. However, this is not soon enough in many people’s eyes.
Green Mountain, which purchased the technology from Sylvan and Peter Dragone in 1997 for $50,000, made about three quarters of its first quarter sales from its K-Cups. However, all those K-Cups the company sells translate into more trash in the landfills.
Sylvan says he regrets inventing the popular coffee system because of the impact it has had on the environment. He does not own a Keurig machine himself, and sticks instead to the traditional brewed coffee. He also points out that using K-Cups works out to be much more expensive than purchasing regular packages of coffee.
There are some other alternatives for those who enjoy the convenience of their Keurig machine. Consumers can purchase a refillable and reusable K-Cup to fill with their own favorite coffee each time they want a cup. However, this does not help those that flock to Keurig for its variety of flavored coffees, since a variety of coffee flavors are not available in most grocery stores. Some third party companies also produce coffee pods to use in Keurig machines that have a mesh bottom instead of solid plastic. These mesh coffee pods may not work as well in the machines as the traditional plastic cups and may not be as sanitary as the mesh is handled. As well, Keurig had recently changed its machines to reject third-party coffee cups. Keurig Green Mountain authorized K-Cups have a special barcode that the newest generations of machines read, and other K-Cups will not work. However, many consumers have found a way around this by taping the top of a genuine K-Cup to their machine or by purchasing special inserts that can work around this problem.
While the Keurig coffee machines continue to be a popular choice for consumers, some may be second-guessing the convenient coffee brewing option. Some are switching to refillable pods and others are abandoning their Keurigs altogether, switching back to their traditional twelve-cup coffee brewers for the sake of the environment.