K-Cups…Tiny Product, Bigger Problem

While some still prefer their old school coffee makers, these days a large portion of the population has switched to using Keurigs, which makes coffee with K-cups. You would think that the person who invented the K-cups would be extremely proud of his product that is so widely used across the world for coffee lovers. However, this is not the case.

John Sylvan, the inventor of the widely used K-cups, or little coffee pods, is not so happy. According to Mother Jones, a few years ago, about 8.3 million K-cups were used, and the ones thrown away could wrap around the Earth more than 10 times. Increases in coffee pods were sold in the year 2014, with 9.8 billion.

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Because of the trash produced by K-cups, Sylvan regrets creating the product and told The Atlantic, “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.”

Sylvan did create the K-cup, but in 1997 he sold the product to Keurig Green Mountain brewing company for a mere $50,000. Creating the product was not the only thing Sylvan thought was a mistake; selling the product so cheap was also questionable. In the year 2014 K-cups revenue hit $4.7 billion.

Keurig Green Mountain said in a sustainability report in 2014 that K-cups will be recyclable by the year 2020.  However, Sylvan has his own input on this announcement, Sylvan told The Atlantic, “No matter what they say about recycling, those things will never be recyclable. The plastic is a specialized plastic made of four different layers.”

A chief sustainability officer of Keurig Green Mountain, Monique Oxender commented on the topic of the cups still not being recyclable, “I gotta be honest with you. We’re not happy with where we are either. We have to get a solution, and we have to get it in place quickly.”

Oxender told ABC News that the pods are actually recyclable, but consumers would need to break them up into paper, plastic, and metal parts. Realistically, this won’t be something consumers would do because of how much time and effort it would consume when you could just throw it out. A huge part of the attraction of K-cups is how easy it makes brewing coffee, when you complicate the recycling process people will completely ignore the process and chuck it in the garbage.

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One thing Keurig Green Mountain has looked into is economic friendly packaging. The company avoids using 16 million cubic feet of EPS foam each year while packaging the Keurig 2.0. Also, they’ve joined the Closed Loop Fund to help making recycling more readily available for Americans.

Sylvan does not use a Keurig because he thinks they are expensive and an old-school coffee maker works for him. When he created the K-cups, he never expected them to be so popular but he does understand. He said, “It’s like a cigarette for coffee, a single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance.”

One thing is for sure, Keurig Green Mountain needs to work on finding a more ecofriendly way to make K-cups. The cups are used so frequently, and I am sure the revenue will not slow down anytime soon because humans will continue loving coffee from their K-cups.