“All it is is landfill” – Use of K-Cups draws criticism from Green Machine at college

Paul Harris makes a cup of coffee using a single-serve coffee machine. These machines are growing in popularity, but the waste produced from them is becoming a concern. Ally Harris photo.
Paul Harris makes a cup of coffee using a single-serve coffee machine. These machines are growing in popularity, but the waste produced from them is becoming a concern. Ally Harris photo.
By Ally Harris
Feb. 28, 2014

When Joan Diamond sees K-Cups, all she sees is landfill.
K-Cups, the disposable pods that go inside Keurig single-serve coffee machines, are becoming an environmental issue.
That’s why Diamond, a member of the Holland College Green Machine, said she won’t use them.
“You couldn’t be an environmentalist and ever consider buying those because they are so harmful for the environment.”
So if they produce so much waste, why are they so popular?
“I think people have their heads in the sand, really,” said Diamond. “It’s just convenience. People find it easier to not think about what happens to their garbage when they’re finished with it.”
There are many alternative options for both consumers and companies, she said.
“If (Keurig) wanted to keep doing the K-Cups, you can make containers now out of potato skins, banana peelings. There are so many other compostable options. And these K-Cups, not only are they not compostable, they’re not recyclable.”
Although the cups are not recyclable, they soon will be, said Sandy Yusen, director of public relations at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, the company behind Keurig.
The company hopes to make all the cups 100 per cent recyclable by 2020.
“We are pursuing multiple avenues to achieve this goal. It’s critically important to us, (and) we know it’s important to people that enjoy the system.
“We are confident that we will meet this goal and find solutions that will allow the K-Cup packs to be recycled after use and still be able to deliver the high-quality coffee that consumers expect from us,” said Yusen.
While there are areas where the company still needs to improve, there are many areas where they have made good progress, she said.
“With the Keurig brewing systems growing in popularity, addressing the environmental impact of these systems in particular, while continuing to deliver the high-quality beverages that our consumers now expect from us, is a really critical priority for us.”
One change made was the packaging. The cups are now stacked tightly to reduce excess space. This has reduced packaging size by 30 per cent and cut greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping of these products by 20 per cent, she said.
“Those are real savings both from the environmental side and also from a cost side for us. It benefits the business and it benefits the environment as well.”
Another aspect of the company’s sustainability work is the use of Fairtrade coffee. In 2012, the company was the largest purchaser Fairtrade coffee in the world.
This is a “win-win-win” situation for consumers, the company, and coffee farmers, she said.
“Our consumers win because they get great quality coffee and they can feel good that the coffee goes towards helping to improve lives of the farmers.
“We have a benefit because hopefully people drink more Fairtrade coffee as a result, and then that allows us to drive even further impacts to improve the lives of coffee farmers.”
Diamond said sustainability isn’t important to most companies, but she does think the change will eventually happen, when it becomes the key to selling a product.
“I think these big corporations, they run on profit. I don’t think they care about the environment, they just care about making money. And that’s why I say until they are forced, until it becomes the competitive advantage to be sustainable, they won’t do it.”
It’s all about awareness of the consumers, she said.
“People have to change the way they consume and that is, from our experience with the Green Machine, a very long, slow process.”
There are many people who want to be responsible consumers and this could create a new customer base, said Diamond.
“There’s no question it’s going to cost more to be sustainable, but hopefully in the long-run they’ll gain the customer base. I think most companies that are doing it, they are doing it because it’s the right thing to do, not because they are making a profit from it.”