The Keurig K-Cup's Inventor Says He Feels Bad That He Made It. Here's Why.

K-cups are everywhere. And its waste is, too, thanks to the fact that the cups are almost impossible to recycle.

learn more about Drake Baer

By Drake Baer • Mar 5, 2015

This story originally appeared on Business Insider

Keurig Green Mountain made $4.7 billion in revenue last year.

Much of that money came thanks to K-Cups, the coffee-in-a-pod system invented by cofounder John Sylvan.

The product is everywhere.

And its waste is, too, thanks to the fact that the cups are almost impossible to recycle.

"I feel bad sometimes that I ever [invented the K-Cup]," Sylvan told James Hamblin of the Atlantic.

Sylvan's creation is a blessing and a curse.

"[Coffee pods are] the poster-child dilemma of the American economy," beverage consultant James Ewell told Vanessa Rancaño of the East Bay Express. "People want convenience, even if it's not sustainable."

Sylvan knew he had a hit on his hands when he was figuring out the pod mechanism back in the '90s.

"It's like a cigarette for coffee, a single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance," he tells the Atlantic.

But Syvlan, who sold his stake in the company for $50,000 in 1997, doesn't own the machine.

"I don't have one," he tells the Atlantic. "They're kind of expensive to use ... plus it's not like drip coffee is tough to make."

Yet the mix of ease and addictiveness has made Keurig and its peers massively — and quickly — successful:

  • In 2008 only 1.8 million coffee pod machines were sold in the US. In 2013, 11.6 million were sold.
  • A 2013 poll found that 1 in 3 Americans had a single-serve coffeemaker, either at home or at work.
  • If all the K-cups that were sold in 2014 were laid end to end, the Atlantic reports, it would be enough to circle the Earth more than 10 times.

Today, Sylvan's work is very much environmental — he runs ZonBak, a solar company that claims to make the most cost-efficient solar panel in the world.

Drake Baer
Drake Baer reports on strategy, leadership, and organizational psychology at Business Insider. He is the co-author of Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation, and Sustainability. Before joining BI, Drake was a contributing writer at Fast Company. Before that, he spent years exploring the world. 

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