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Almost from the start, environmentalists warned that Keurig’s K-cups were a disaster waiting to happen. As the popularity of the world’s best-known single serve coffee maker grew, so did the mountain of non-recyclable, non-biodegradable K-cups – and the voices of those raising the alarm about the mountain of trash. It got so bad, that John Sylvan, inventor of the K-cup, told The Atlantic in March that he regrets his invention.
Here are a few facts to help you evaluate that question.
– Keurig estimates that it sold more than 9.8 billion K-cups in 2014.
– The number of K-cups sold would circle the Earth at the equator 12 times.
– An Edmonton, CA waste disposal company says K-cups make up a full 1% of its waste.
– The number of K-cups sold is expected to continue increasing for the foreseeable future.
Keurig will tell you that their K-cups are actually 100% recyclable – and they are, if you are willing to painstakingly separate the plastic, metal and paper parts of the pod and sort them into separate recycling bins… and if you can find one of the few facilities that can actually handle #7 plastic, something that only a handful of cities can do. Keurig will also tell you that they are committed to creating a fully recyclable K-cup by 2020.
What Can You Do About the K-cup Problem?
If you’re not willing to spend hours every year disassembling K-cups and you’re not patient enough to wait 5 years for a tossable K-cup, there are some things you can do right now to enjoy your single serve coffee machine without feeling guilty. The fact is that a number of roasters and manufacturers have created their own K-cup compatible pods that actually are biodegradable, recyclable or compostable. Here’s a list of five K-cup alternatives that are better than K-cups.
Within months of the introduction of the K-cup, manufacturers started selling reusable plastic coffee containers for use in the Keurig brewers. My Cup is one of the most popular. Not only does it help you keep the ubiquitous K-cups out of the waste stream, it will also save you a boatload of money. You’re paying up to $40 a pound for ground coffee when you make all your coffee with Keurig pods. A reusable My Cup or one of its competitors allows you to pick your own coffee – and pay for it at actual market prices.
G-Kup is a newly patented, fully composable coffee pod made by a company in Vancouver. They’re made using bamboo, sugar cane and paper, and can fully compost in about 4-5 weeks. G-Kups are expected to hit the market in 2016.
Toronto’s popular Club Coffee is also in the final certification stages of its own 100% compostable K-cup alternative, the PurPod 100. Club Coffee’s version of the coffee pod does away with the plastic cup. Instead, it uses a soft pod held in place by a rigid ring which is made from – you’ll love this – coffee chaff, the thin skins that fly off the coffee beans during the roasting process. Club Coffee is hoping to have their PurPods certified 100% compostable and on the market by the fall of 2015.
Rogers Family Gourmet Coffee, which is best known for its San Francisco Bay coffee brand, is now selling a range of its favorite coffees in 97% biodegradable One Cups. Rogers goes a step further than just making the coffee pods biodegradable. The company uses 100% recycled paper – which is also biodegradable and recyclable – in its packaging.
Local favorite, Dean’s Beans of Orange, MA, sells a range of its organic, sustainably grown direct trade coffees in ReCups, single serve K-cup alternatives that are made with #5 plastic, one of the most widely accepted and recycled plastics in the country. In addition, Dean’s Beans sells the EkoBrew, a reusable K-cup compatible coffee filter.
These are just a few of the many K-Cup alternatives that are in the works across the country and around the world. Keep your eyes peeled for more – there’s a good chance that your favorite coffee will soon be available in a compostable or recyclable K-cup alternative long before Keurig offers its own version.