Is it Possible to Recycle K-Cups?
After recent complaints from environmentalists the issue of recycling K-Cups now appears to be front and center, but Keurig insists the process is going to be a lot harder than people believe.
The Difficulty of Recycling K-Cups
To understand the difficulty of recycling Keruig’s K-Cups, one must first understand what these convenient coffee singles consist of. The plastic cups are lined with a heat-sealed paper filter to keep the coffee fresh and are covered by polyethylene-coated aluminum foil on its top.
The combination of the three unrelated elements makes recycling these products extremely difficult because each cup would have to be dissected and thoroughly cleaned before being usable again.
What the Competitors are Doing
An article by The New York Times led readers to believe that some of K-Cups competitors have successfully explored biodegradable containers for their cups, but these options are not yet available in the US. Britain has led the way to these innovations with Kraft’s Tassimo pods implementing reusable plastic cups.
Some European companies, including Sara Lee’s Senseo pods, have looked towards compostable paper cups as a way of being more environmentally friendly, but the US has only experimented with these techniques.
What is Keurig Doing?
Keurig has openly acknowledged the recycling issues on their website where they said, “Finding a more environmentally friendly approach to this packaging challenge is a big priority for us. We are working on a few different fronts to improve the environmental characteristics of the K-Cup system.”
Despite claiming to have some improvements in the works, Keurig is only beginning to address the packaging issues. Vice President, Michael Dupee told the Los Angeles Times that the company is willing to accept used cups sent back to be refurbished and rerouted over a thousand tons of material from landfills.
As the popularity of K-Cups continue to grow on the American public, the phenomenon has been steadily increasing since selling 1.6 billion non-recyclable cups in 2009. Green Mountain, the company responsible for Keurig, installed Vermont’s largest solar photovoltaic array using over 500 solar panels in an attempt to go green just three years ago.
Keurig is slowly moving towards a greener production cycle and have allocated five-percent of their pre-tax profits towards environmental projects in local communities. Their main goal is to use the cups to create reusable energy, but after seeing an increase of 104% ($1.7-billion) people would like to see Green Mountain and Keurig Brewers do more than just throw money at the problem.
Keurig has introduced a reusable cup that opens and can store any type of bean. The small canister can be washed, but is the equivalent to a metal water bottle not a plastic Poland Spring that will be recycled and used again within months.
Keurig has avoided the specifics of what they’re next advancement would be, but unless they are able to perfect a recyclable cup environmentalists are going to keep knocking on their door.