The popularity of single serve coffee pods have become increasingly more popular since they were introduced more than a dozen years ago. This is especially true of the most recent years, where nearly 1 in 5 coffee drinkers consumed a single serve cup yesterday. It is now the second most popular way to brew coffee in America, second to only the traditional drip method. In Western Europe, sales of pod coffee machines have actually exceeded sales of traditional coffee makers.
Keurig appliances are extremely popular with the convenience and ease that comes with them. There is next to no preparation, and cleanup only takes a second. With single-serve convenience comes even more single serve waste in the disposable world we live in. So just how much waste do these plastic coffee pods produce?
Sales of coffee pod machines have multiplied times six in the last six years. 1.8 million units were sold in 2008 and 11.6 units were sold in 2013. That’s 8.3 billion K-Cups. As an estimation from journalist Murray Carpenter and Mother Jones, all the K-Cups sold last year (in 2013) could wrap around the earth 10.5 times. That’s an extra hundreds of millions of pounds of unrecyclable debris being tossed each year.
What’s even worse is that the plastic used to produce these cups is more times than not unable to be recycled. Green Mountain (owner of Keurig) makes only 5% of its plastic cups with sustainable materials. With some cups, the foil lid is able to be recycled. But the lid must be separated from the rest of the pod. A small amount of the cups are made from recyclable plastics, but they must be rid of all coffee residues before they will be acceptable. It is also possible that the cup won’t even be put through recycling, simply because of its small size. Although Green Mountain says they do plan to make all of the pods recyclable by the year 2020, billions of more cups will have been added to landfills by then.
Some other companies are making a more sincere effort to be less harmful to the environment. For example, Nespresso’s lid is recyclable as it is made from aluminum. Canterbury coffee is made from 92% biodegradable materials. Keurig, however, uses No. 7 plastic. which is a mix that introduces health concerns with chemicals that could leak out into the coffee when the cup is heated. Keurig does make disposable mesh filters for those who love the single serve machines, but those get rid of the convenience and easy cleaning of the disposable cups.
It’s not just the little plastic cups that are producing more waste. Many households and businesses are getting a Keurig in addition to a drop coffee maker they already have. Or they are using it to replace their old drip maker. Why does that matter? It means a lot of perfectly good appliances are being thrown out. Coffee makers are particularly difficult to difficult to recycle or even dispose of in an environmentally friendly way.
So think about it… is the extra convenience of quick coffee for busy Americans worth all the additional plastic K-Cups that will end up in landfills?