The Environmental Cost of Convenience

Everyone loves to get their daily dose of coffee. Many get their coffee from a single serve brewing station known as a Keurig. What consumers may not realize is how the constant use of machines like these are affecting the environment. In a report released by Keurig Green Mountain in November 2014 approximately 9.8 million K-Cups were sold in 2013, and since then this number has only increased.

KCupsEarth3_0

(http://www.motherjones.com/food/2014/03/coffee-k-cups-green-mountain-polystyrene-plastic/)

 

Many consumers may assume K-cup plastic is recyclable, but this is not the case. A majority of used K-Cups were simply being thrown in the trash where they would later be taken to landfills to stay.

After seeing reports of the amount of K-Cup pods going to landfills, Keurig Green Mountain began researching more recyclable friendly designs, with the hopes of reaching a goal of 100% recyclability by 2020. In 2017 Keurig Green Mountain announced that the first recyclable K-Cup pods were ready to brew. These pods are being made from recyclable polypropylene #5 plastic. Prior to Keurig Green Mountain’s decision to make a more recyclable K-Cup pods, they were made of #7 Other Plastics, which are not typically recyclable. These redesigned recyclable pods are set to release in Canada in 2017, with the anticipation that by the end of 2018 that all K-Cup pods produced in Canada will be recyclable. Keurig Green Mountain has proposed that all K-Cups pods will be 100% recyclable by 2020.

Timeline with Dates

(http://www.keurigrecycling.com/)

The magic inside a K-Cup pod

KGM_filter-2-1024x504

(http://www.keurigrecycling.com/)

In order to recycle the redesigned pods, consumers must perform three simple task.

  1. PEEL
  2. EMPTY
  3. RECYCLE

Do you think that this change by Keurig Green Mountain will result in fewer pods to be thrown away? Could they do more to make it easier to recycle the pods?

Sources

http://www.motherjones.com/food/2014/03/coffee-k-cups-green-mountain-polystyrene-plastic/

http://investor.keuriggreenmountain.com/releasedetail.cfm?releaseid=883911

http://investor.keuriggreenmountain.com/releasedetail.cfm?releaseid=943489

http://www.keurigrecycling.com/

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23 thoughts on “The Environmental Cost of Convenience

  1. As many people have probably heard, the creator of the Keurig wishes that he never made it due to the fact that the pods were not recyclable. I think the Green Mountain coffee is taking a correct step in the right direction to make the pods recyclable, but I think they are going to have to make it easier for the consumer to recycle. Average people will not want to take the time to do three steps to recycle the plastic. Everyone is always in a rush nowadays and I don’t think people will take the time to peel, empty, and recycle. I do think this will bring the number of pods thrown away down, but not by a significant amount.

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  2. I think the Keurig Green Mountain concept is unique and a good attempt to increase the number of pods to be recycled. However, I do not believe that this change will result in a significant amount of pods being recycled instead of thrown in the trash. Presumably the same amount of coffee will be consumed, and the consumers that recycled prior to the change will continue to recycle. I predict that the number of consumers that did not recycle before the creation of the pod was not directly related to the construction of the pod, but by the time it takes as well as the process to recycle.

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  3. While I think that making Keurig pods recyclable is a great goal to reach, I don’t think it will make as big of an impact as they probably predict. I don’t think people in their daily rush to get coffee and get out the door will take the time to wash out the cups to actually make it recyclable. I think that most of these pods will probably just be thrown away. During work this summer, my office had a Keurig and I found that using the reusable filter cups and putting your own grounds in them is a far cheaper and more sustainable method that is pretty easy to do.

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  4. Keurig cups make me sad. I’m glad to hear they are making this design change. But that said, it is really difficult to break old habits, and by now most regular Keurig consumers have probably realized that K-cups are not recyclable. Not to mention the extra effort consumers would have to take to actually make recycling feasible. We struggle so much with recycling rates as is with products that are easy to recycle. I feel like Keurig would have to invest in a pretty big marketing push to raise consumer awareness about the recyclability of their product and to teach consumers the steps to make any significant difference in recycling rates – which is something they are unlikely to do.

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  5. I love your title. It is a topic I think about regularly in daily life. How many times a day does the average human sacrifice energy or resources just to save a small amount of time? I would bet that the number is enormous compared to the actual amount of time saved by these choices for the average (I know it is for me). It makes me think of a term I learned in Schramski’s class first coined by a scientist named Buckminster Fuller. The truth is, we use resources and energy in almost everything we do daily to make our lives easier. Each car that transport for us, or washing machine that does our laundry, of coffee maker that makes our coffee is considered an energy slave. We can put the K-Cup in the machine and do something else while the machine takes care of the hard work for us. I would like to challenge everyone in the class to try and recognize the energy slaves that we all use on a daily basis because it may reveal that the extra time saved on a task is not worth the impact of using the energy slave.

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  6. As we continue to see with each passing week, coffee seems to be a major environmental concern in multiple facets. With these disposable coffee pods becoming a force on the national market, landfills and recycling need to be discussed and it’s good to see Keurig is taking initiative to convert their product line without regulatory actions engaging the matter, however, they will either need to change their plastic further from their #5 or the impact of change will not be fully realized as many recycling systems do not recycle plastics above #4, and others recycle even less variations of plastics. I remember hearing of Nespresso changing their pods to be mostly aluminum to be more readily recyclable versus K-cups. While K-cups only require separation of parts (by the consumer) to be properly recycled, this need to be separated makes it that much more difficult to have societal change.

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  7. I think the change will lead to less K-cups being thrown away, but not as many as one would think. Unless Green Mountain Coffee has an extreme marketing campaign to show its customers that the cups are recyclable then I doubt many people will recycle the pods. People use K-cups out of convenience, if they were worried about price the would brew a cup of coffee, and if they were concerned with the environmental impact, they would brew a cup of coffee. Ultimately it is the right move for Green Mountain Coffee, but I can’t help but think most Americans wont conduct those three simple steps.

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  8. K-cups have become a textbook example of plastic waste in America. As many have mentioned I am glad that Green Mountain Coffee has taken steps to produce recyclable cups, but it still comes down to actually recycling the product. The fact that the new k-cups can be recycled doesn’t mean that they will be recycled. What I would like to see is Green Mountain introduce a buyback program where they buyback empty k-cups to help ensure the recycling of k-cups. I think by giving empty a monetary value, even a small one, is what is going to be needed to reach anywhere close to 100 percent recycling.

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  9. As others here have stated, I agree that there needs to be an easier way to recycle these products. In the consumers private home, many will just skip the steps to recycle and chunk the entire package. Sure some consumers will take note of the changes, but the number of k cups entering landfills will likely only drop by a little. A better solution to this problem and one that would save the consumer money is to use the refillable cups and choose their coffee of choice. Much better option in my opinion, but there is no way that Keurig would market that.

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  10. Great read! While most environmentally conscious people can see that huge amount of waste that accumulates from the use of k-cups, I feel like others may just view it as another convenient “necessity” like using paper towels to wipe spills instead of a dish rag that can be rewashed. Like others, I can appreciate the effort made by Green Mountain but I don’t feel as though it would be enough. I like the idea of a buyback program like John mentioned, which I’m sure would be appealing to k-cup consumers considering the cost of a box of k-cups. The backbone of a keurig machine is the convenience of a single serve dispenser, but there are many other machines that are capable of single serve without the pods, or even using the reusable k-cup.

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  11. Agreeing with many people above, I think this a good step in the right direction. Right now, I think people know that k-cups aren’t recyclable but they don’t think twice about the impact they are having to the environment. If the k-cups were reclycable, I feel like people would be more inclined to recycle them, but the fact that you still have to peel off the top and dump out the coffee will likely lead to many people still throwing them away. I have transferred to using a re-usable K-Cup into which you pour in coffee grounds, and it works great, but I don’t see any K-Cup companies ever advocating on behalf of those because it would be less business for them.

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  12. If consumers are given the choice between recyclable k-cups that must be peeled and emptied and standard k-cups that offer the conventional convenience we’ve grown accustom to, I believe the majority of consumers will choose the standard k-cups. In order to change the habits of Americans, Keurig will need to make a tough business decision and decide whether or not it is worth possibly losing market share for the sake of the environment.

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  13. I think this reflects a major problem in how we try to recycle here in the U.S. Most people don’t know what is and isn’t recyclable. I think most people will either keep throwing them away or try and “recycle” them by throwing the whole thing in the recycle bin. In america we do a terrible job of recycling. If you go to any recycle dumpster you will find tons of things that are not recyclable like food waste. I think to see big changes its going to take a shift in culture.

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  14. This is an issue that I wasn’t aware about until about a year ago. For the longest time, I thought the K-cups would’ve been made to be recyclable. This is something that I believe that they should’ve considered from the beginning. With that being said, I believe this is definitely a step in the right direction. I think in addition to making all K-cups fully recyclable from here on out, I believe that Keurig should come up with a solution on how to address the millions of K-cups that will be sitting in landfills for years to come.

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  15. I like how Keurig realized the problem it created, however I do not think this will be that affected. I’ve noticed people do not like to take any extra steps, which is how Keirug became so popular to begin with. So by asking to peel out the inside then recycle the cup does not seem like the right direction. At this point maybe starting a new fad of coffee that’s also environmentally-friendly would be the best solution.

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  16. I think in certain settings this would greatly increase recycling. If you could bring them back to the grocery store similar to grocery bags. In the office, recycling can be much easier because you can have everyone get on the same page. Communities that communicate are much more likely to recycle together than most of the individual homes. The grocery drop off could help the convenience of individuals recycling.

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  17. Thanks for posting this! I think its great that Keurig realized the environmental issues that the k cups are causing and took action to reduce this problem. This is something that I don’t think many companies retroactively take such strong responsibility to do. As far as if this will change human behavior, I think that might be a bit tricker. At this point, most people have been using Keurigs for years to make their coffee. Most people are probably pretty set in their routine of either throwing their pods away or recycling them, I think it will take quite a bit of outreach and education to change these habits.

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  18. I’m going to agree with everyone who is saying that while the ability to recycle K-cups is nice, very few people will take advantage of it. People who use exclusively K cups are interested in convenience and expediting their morning routines. They’re not likely to spend the extra 30 seconds to disassemble a K-Cup: if they had that time they would use it making better coffee. To incentivize K cup recycling I think something beyond a simple recycling scheme needs to be used. Perhaps a system where returning the cups gets you a discount on your next purchase, like ink cartridges? The financial returns would make the prospect of putting in the effort to properly dispose of K cups would be a far better motivator than the abstract knowledge that recycling helps the environment.

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  19. This is a great post! The non-recyclability of products like this is too common as it stands now. Small containers like these pose a significant threat to the environment if not contained properly because the containers are small enough to impede creatures or perhaps even be ingested by larger creatures. It is fortunate that some companies are becoming aware of the impact of their waste and, as a result, are deciding to make the switch to recyclable plastics. It is disappointing that the actions to switch plastic types by Keurig Green Mountain was reactionary rather than preventative. People in general are more active when the evidence of harm is clear, however prevention is a much better solution than reaction, so it is important that societal thinking shifts towards the former if we really want to reduce our impact on the environment.

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  20. I am so happy to hear this! I was wondering when K-cups would become recyclable. I used them for a little bit of time, but then realized that they were incredibly wasteful. So I bought reusable K-cups and filled them with coffee that I bought in bulk. I still think that is a better idea than recycling K-cups because many people will still just throw them away. Also, reusing is less wasteful than consuming and recycling. I do think that their method to recycle is incredibly simple and is about as easy as it gets. It’s more about informing and instructing their consumers to recycle the cups.

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  21. Like other commenters, I do not see the majority of people taking the time to peel, empty and recycle. Most of the will more than likely just take the easier route and throw the cup in the trash. The problem is it seems like it would be extremely difficult to develop a cup that is recyclable without being emptied first.

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  22. I am happy to see that K cups are finally becoming recyclable! However, i agree that it will be a hassle to go through the numerous steps in order to properly recycle them. I think this is a great example of how engineers must be careful when designing goods. If the creator of Keurig had approached his idea with a “cradle-to-cradle” mindset rather than a “cradle-to-grave” one, then he would have foreseen this issue and designed a type of k-cup that would be reusable or recyclable from the beginning. I believe this is a good step in the right direction though!

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  23. Honestly, I don’t really think making the pod recyclable will make most consumers want to recycle the pods. If they want to recycle the pod, they would have to clean out the pod first so that it would not be contaminated with coffee grounds, a time-consuming step that does not go hand in hand with the idea of convenience that a keurig promotes. A lot of people already don’t want to take the time to clean out the plastic packaging that food comes in to recycle it; I don’t think that this product would be any different. The model of disposable k-cups is unsustainable itself; the only way I see the keurig being sustainable is through using a reusable cup and putting your own coffee in that.

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