K-cup coffee pods are convenient items in our everyday lives. They allow us to make a single cup of our favourite tea or coffee quickly and efficiently, without the excess of a whole pot of something that goes cold. Here’s the catch. By making each pod so individual and easy to dispose of, packaging increases exponentially—packaging that ultimately ends up in landfills. K-cup pods aren’t recyclable. They’re made of No. 7 plastic – a combination of plastics – also known as a composite.
40% of Canadian households use single serve coffee makers and they’re continuing to prove to be an extremely popular item for consumers. Caffeinated author and journalist Murray Carpenter crunched the numbers to find that discarded “K-Cups”—single-serve coffee capsules, or “pods,” used in Keurig coffee makers—could circle the globe almost 11 times. Think about that for a second. Over 8 billion K-cup pods were produced in 2013 alone, and that doesn’t even count other kinds of pods – like Nespresso or Tassimo. K-cups have four main elements. The foil top (which has a small hole punched into it during the brewing process). A paper filter inside of the cup itself (which is adhered inside), coffee grounds or tea inside, and then the cup itself. You can separate the foil and the organic components for compost and recyling – namely the first three things. You can’t do anything with the cup. So – even if someone were to cut away the foil top after brewing, dump the content of the cup post brew into the composts bin, and cut away the paper filter inside of the cups and throw that into the compost bin as well, they’d still be left with a cup that almost 100% of the time ends up in the garbage. Many people throw them into recycle bins – but they still end up in the trash.
So what can we do about this, besides the obvious solution of making coffee and tea the old fashioned way? Well…there are alternatives. Reusable k-cup filters are a good start. Ekobrew makes a good one. Kuerig makes one as well. EZ Pod is another popular one. These alternatives aren’t as convenient as popping a plastic K-cup into your machine, but you can dump brewed coffee grounds or tea into the compost bin and simply wash them out after you’re done.
The K-cup issue isn’t a new one. The Globe and Mail published a piece on the environmental dilemma they introduce last week. Green Mountain, who bought Kuerig, recognize the problem. They offer a recylable K-cup, but it makes up only 5% of it’s annual output. They’re aiming to have all their pods recylable by 2020 – but that’s a long ways away. Considering landfills have and continue to grow at an alarming rate, it’s time we reconsider the long term cost of convenience.