Perhaps you’ve seen the image of the Earth wearing a belt made of K-Cups. “All of the K-Cups sold in 2013 would wrap around Earth 10.5 times,” reads the accompanying text. Green Mountain, which acquired Keurig, makes just 5 percent of its cups out of recyclable plastic; the rest are made of a plastic that only a few cities in Canada recycle. It’s no wonder the inventor of K-Cups feels a little guilty. “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it,” John Sylvan tells The Atlantic.
Green Mountain plans to make all its cups recyclable by 2020, but some competitors are way ahead of them; Canterbury Coffee makes a 92-percent biodegradable single-serving pod, and Ekobrew is a reusable K-Cup. Many Keurig enthusiasts were happy to use these alternatives (which are often cheaper, too) — until the 2.0 version of the machine refused to brew off-brand pods. Naturally, there are ways around the problem, but Keurig still sold 9.8 billion packs last year, The Atlantic reports.
Recently, Coca-Cola partnered with Green Mountain, and the latter announced its yet-to-be-released Keurig Kold, which allows users to make tea, soda, and sparkling water at home. Though the machine doesn’t use CO2 canisters, it’s not clear if it will work on a similar single-use model that its coffeemakers use.
However, there are some benefits to the pod-process of making coffee. Murray Carpenter, who wrote a book called Caffeinated and was responsible for the 10.5 ring of K-Cups statistic, tells The Atlantic, “The 11 grams of grounds in a K-Cup are utilized more efficiently than when I throw a handful of ground coffee into my Melitta filter in the morning.” Fewer grounds means less water use; plus, people who brew entire pots end up throwing a lot of coffee, wasting more H2O.
While Starbucks brews efficiently, but those disposable cups still generate waste. The most bang for your buck, in terms of eco-friendliness, says Carpenter, is instant coffee.