When John Sylvan invented K-Cups in 1997, he knew they’d turn a
profit. What he didn’t anticipate was that 15 years later, a coffee pod
machine would be sitting on the counters of an estimated 20 million American homes and Keurig Green Mountain would go on to sell more than 30 billion packs of the disposable coffee pods.
Disposable is the keyword there. To withstand the brewing process,
coffee pods are made with four different layers of specialized plastic
and topped with plastic foil, making them virtually un-recyclable and
Last year Keurig sold 9 billion K-cups, the majority of which likely ended up in landfills.
Sylvan, who sold his share of Keurig Green Mountain for $50,000 in 1997, expressed his regrets for the invention in an interview with The Atlantic, saying “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.”
“It’s like a cigarette for coffee, a single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance.”
Sylvan now works at his solar power company called Zonbrak and doesn’t own a Keurig machine himself.
Keurig Green Mountain, which recently announced
a partnership with Coca Cola and Snapple beverages to bring sodas into
the Keurig family, is probably not too thrilled with Sylvan’s recent
The company has introduced an initiative to make its pods entirely
recyclable by 2020, a goal that Sylvan says is unattainable. “No matter
what they say about recycling, those things will never be recyclable,”
he told The Atlantic.
Uproar over the pods from environmentalists is nothing new.
In January, video production company Egg Studios anonymously uploaded
a mockumentary video that depicts an action-movie style takeover of
disposed K-Cups. Egg Studios later claimed credit for the video in a press release, and since then, the Internet has taken on the #KillTheKCup mantra.
While K-Cups may seem like a more affordable alternative for those
trying to curb their daily Starbucks habit, in reality they’re still
extremely expensive. Each pod comes with a measly 11 grams of coffee,
which equates to about $40 per pound, according to The Atlantic.
Keurig Green Mountain’s Chief Sustainability Officer Monique Oxender told The Atlantic
that K-Cups are technically recyclable. But that’s only if you separate
the metal foil, rinse out the plastic cup, and remove the paper filter.
All three must be recycled separately. But how likely is the average
Keurig customer, who’s paying a premium price to shed seconds off their
morning routine, to go through that meticulous process?
If you’ve become a K-Cup devotee, you may, in some cases, not have to
chuck your 15-pound Keurig machine to reduce your waste output. Put
your Amazon Prime account to good use by buying a large tub of coffee grounds and some reusable Ekobrew Keurig pods. But if you have Keurig 2.0, that’s not an option. That machine doesn’t brew unlicensed packs, much to the chagrin of customers.
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