Single-serve coffee manufacturer Keurig is trying to do something about its wasteful reputation. The New York Times reports that the company is introducing a new line of K-Cups this year made with recyclable materials, but whether watered down coffee creator deserves a pat on the back is up for discussion.
Whereas the original cup was made from a type of plastic that was difficult to recycle, the new version is a polypropylene pod that's more easily accepted by recycling centers. The recyclable pods are expected to comprise 50 percent of all K-Cups by 2018 and 100 percent by 2020. However, switching from one disposable plastic container to another seems unlikely to inspire Keurig customers to recycle their used pods considering the point of the single-serve machines is convenience and easy cleanup. In the meantime, the company will continue to produce billions of coffee ground-filled K-Cups, requiring more raw materials and energy than traditional brewing methods.
For its part, Keurig is concerned with its slowing sales, negative reputation, environmental impact, but reps say it's been a challenge to developing a pod that keeps coffee as fresh as the original model and is compatible with consumers' machines. The designer of the K-Cup, John Sylan, has even stated in interviews that he sometimes regrets creating the pod. "When you look at the trends toward single-serve generally, you can either villainize it, or you can fix it," Keurig's chief sustainability officer Monique Oxender tells the Times. "We're trying to fix it."
K-Cups may be a scourge on landfills and ridiculously expensive, but the pods do have a few modest environmental benefits. On average, Keurig machines use less water than a typical coffee machine and fewer grounds. The company, which was recently purchased by the owners of Peet's and Stumptown, have been credited with reducing American coffee consumption. Keurig's poor environmental track record has inspired designers to develop alternative single-serve machines such as the Droops Coffee Maker that uses eco-friendly pods coated in sugar.