Kill The K-Cup: Non-Recyclable Coffee Pods Are So Bad For The Planet, Even The Inventor Regrets Dreaming Them Up

Business is booming, but at what cost to the environment?


In a recent interview with The Atlantic, the inventor of Keurig K-Cups admitted his single-serve coffee brewing pods have a disastrous effect on the environment. John Sylvan founded Keurig back in 1992, never imagining his non-reusable containers would become so popular that they account for the large majority of Green Mountain Coffee‘s $4.7bn in revenue each year.

But fast forward a couple of decades and Sylvan has a ton of regrets- and not only about selling his share of the company back in 1997 for just $50,000. “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it,” he told a reporter earlier this month. “I don’t have one.” He also pointed out that (at around 60 cents per cup), “they’re kind of expensive to use.” Sylvan then adds:”Plus it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make,” highlighting how flimsy the ‘convenience’ argument is regarding disposable coffee pods. Since selling his share, sales of the plastic and aluminium K-Cups have rocketed, with far-reaching consequences for our planet.

These were highlighted in January this year by a spoof action/drama movie that imagines a disaster scenario: a monster made entirely of K-Cups descends on an American city. The so-called ‘Kill The K-Cup’ campaign went viral, and their YouTube channel aims to educate coffee drinkers about the dire consequences of convenience:

1. In 2013, Green Mountain Coffee produced enough coffee pods to wrap around the equator 10.5 times.

2. The new Keurig 2.0 does not offer reusable filters and the existing “my K-cup” filter does not fit on the machine.

3. Green Mountain only makes 5% of its current cups out of recyclable plastic.

4. Keurig Green Mountain’s mission is to have a Keurig System on every counter and a beverage for every occasion – hot, cold, maybe even soup.

5. The pods are made of No. 7 plastic, which can’t be recycled in most places. They have an aluminum lid, which is hard to separate from the cup. Even if the plastic, aluminum and coffee could be separated, the pod is too small to be handled by most recycling systems.

6. TerraCycle, a company that provides recycling solutions for spent coffee pods, has teamed up with Tassimo, Mars Drinks, Nespresso and Illy, but despite reaching out to the company multiples times, has not be able to develop a relationship with Green Mountain (Keurig).

We could add to this list the fact that almost one in three American families use coffee pod machines, rather than recyclable alternatives or good old drip systems. Single-use coffee pod machine sales have increased by 600% since 2008, and show no signs of slowing.

As a New York Times article pointed out in 2010, Green Mountain Coffee started out as a pretty eco-friendly company. At the time this piece went to print, the company claimed they were planning to design ‘the Ecotainer’, a biodegradable plant-based cup to cut down on environmental damage. Five years later, many people are scratching their heads and asking, what happened? Rather than keep their promises, Green Mountain continue to churn out new blends, plus a new range of products to be made over ice, all of which use unsustainable packaging. This year, Keurig plans on partnering with Coca Cola to release a cold drink machine, hoping to extend its brand even further, but the corporation continues to disregard the ongoing problem of sustainability.

Kill the K-Cups…before they kill our planet!

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