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Is This the K-Cup's Fatal Flaw?


If K-Cups are considered the future of the coffee industry, new research is calling into question the future of the K-Cup -- particularly as billions of discarded pods amass in our nation’s landfills every year. 

The convenience and value offered by the system, environmentalists contend, has come at a grave new cost.

According to reports, only five percent of pods sold by Keurig Green Mountain are recyclable. And given that single brew consumption is on the rise, per the National Coffee Association, the vast quantity of discarded pods in 2013 could circle the globe more than 10 times.

Related: McDonald's 'Sustainable Beef' Finally Has a Definition... Sort Of.

While the individual components of each K-Cup -- plastic shell, paper filter, foil lid and coffee grounds -- are recyclable on their own, the small quantity of each material and the hybrid construction of each capsule makes it too difficult for recycling facilities to dismantle and sort.

The environmental impact is becoming so staggering that even Keurig itself is vowing major reforms. In a sustainability report for fiscal 2013, the company says it will aim to make 100 percent of its K-Cups recyclable by 2020.

“We are considering the type of plastic we use and looking for ways to make the components of the pack easier to separate,” the company said.

Related: 3 Things You May Not Know About Sustainable Packaging, But Should

But if 2020 doesn’t sound nearly soon enough, there are alternatives. Keurig manufactures its own reusable filter, called the My K-Cup, which can be filled with any kind of ground coffee. But it must be cleaned after each use, minimizing the machine’s cherished convenience factor.

On the other hand, San Francisco Bay Coffee offers the OneCup -- a 98.6 percent bio-degradable option that does away with a plastic shell entirely, comprising a paper-based lid, plant-based ring and a poly mesh filter (the only piece that is still not biodegradable, the company says.)

In the meantime, particularly conscientious consumers have even posted YouTube tutorials on how the used pods can be washed out, repacked and resealed with specialty lids.

Related: Home-Brewed Coca-Cola in 2015 Could Transform the Beverage Industry

Geoff Weiss

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Geoff Weiss is a former staff writer at