K-Cups have become the next big thing in America, bringing individual servings of gourmet coffee into people’s homes of in a matter of seconds, with the simple push of a button. As convenient as this innovation is, it is slowly contributing to the killing of our planet, as cup after cup is brewed every single day, leaving a trail of non-recyclable and non-biodegradable plastic trash. The number of K-Cups being used each day adds up quickly. As James Hamblin, a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine states, “In 2014, enough K-Cups were sold that if placed end-to-end, they would circle the globe 10.5 times. Almost all of them ended up in landfills.” Considering that K-Cups are not recyclable, meaning that when they are thrown away, the cups remain in that one place until they are moved again, it is clear that the use of these cups has become a huge problem in our society, one that is being overlooked due to the convenience that these cups bring. But although they are popular, the use of K-Cups is resulting in harmful consequences for our planet and no matter how convenient the K-Cup is, it is time that we end this unsustainable invention’s widespread use.
The companies that make K-Cups have promised that within the next five years, they will come up with a version that is able to be recycled. But skeptics who are familiar with the industry doubt this will happen. One, John Sylvan, knows a lot about K-Cups– he invented them. He was the co-founder of Keurig, and inventing K-Cups is something he now says he regrets. He also 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.” And prototypes using other materials, including paper, did not work as effectively. Thus, this problem may persist.
But there is still hope for coffee lovers and for environmentalists. While some experiments have not worked out, a few companies continue to try to solve the problem. For example, two Canadian start-ups have been trying to create an entirely new system that delivers individual servings conveniently, but in a form that is biodegradable. These two companies, G-Kup Coffee from Vancouver and Club Coffee from Toronto, have each been experimenting with the use of bamboo and a plant-based resin known as Ingeo, both of which work well with coffee grinds and break down easily when composted. Club Coffee is also advertising the “PurPod,” which their website says is “the first 100% compostable single-serve pod for coffee, tea, and other hot beverages.”
These inventions, while not widely known yet, are encouraging. If the public wants K-Cups to remain legal (and research shows they are extremely popular– by some estimates, billions have been sold), it’s time for more innovative ideas and more of an effort at implementing them into future designs, in order to minimize the harm K-Cups have been doing to the environment. Until new and better products have been developed and made available, your Planet Earth asks everyone to kindly refrain from using the plastic K-Cups, and instead to seek out the reusable ones. Educating the public about the consequences of using these cups is essential; but equally essential is creating new and safer designs, so that consumers can still have their coffee without destroying the environment.