Keurig Introduces a Recyclable Option but It Won't Fix the Criticism Over Environmental Concerns

April 24th 2016

Aron Macarow

For almost a decade, Keurig has promised to introduce a recyclable K-Cup for its single-serve coffee maker. And in response to mounting criticism that the company displays a massive disregard for the environment with its current non-recyclable pods, critics may finally be getting their wish.

According to a new report in The New York Times, Keurig will roll out new polypropylene single-serve K-Cups — a fully recyclable option — later this year. The company estimates that the new pods will make up 50 percent of total K-Cups sold by 2018, reaching 100 percent by 2020.

"When you look at the trends toward single-serve generally, you can either villainize it, or you can fix it,” said Keurig's chief sustainability officer Monique Oxender, in response to criticism over the product. “We’re trying to fix it.”

How recyclable will the new K-Cups be?

It's hard to say since they haven't hit the market yet. But the process to make the K-Cups will still be energy-intensive and the recycling process for consumers is certain to be messy.

Consumers will still have to peel the aluminum top off after using them, potentially spilling out hot coffee grounds it the process. This also raises the valid concern that K-Cup users are unlikely to take this step even if the pods they purchase are newly recyclable, since the whole point of single-serve coffee pods is that they are mess-free, quick, and easy to use.

“The production of each one of these coffee pods requires energy, materials, chemicals, water, transportation,” notes Darby Hoover of the Natural Resources Defense Council to The Times. “Recycling helps mitigate the effects of sending them to a landfill, but that does not offset the environmental effects of making them in the first place.”

It also may be too little, too late.

Pod sales have started to slump as critics are becoming more vocal about the strain that such products place on our environment, driving sales of the coffee brewers down by 23 percent last year. This includes a 2011 social media campaign that didn't mince words with the hashtag #KillTheKCup.

Only time will tell whether Keurig's move to recyclable pods in 2016 boosts sales. One thing is clear: Pods sold in just one year for use in Keurig machines could circle the planet almost 10 times. That's a massive amount of plastic waste, and in fact, it's something even the creator regrets, according to The Atlantic.