Creator of the K-Cup Thinks They’re Bad for the Environment

By Noah Kaufman |

© Duncan Taylor / Stockimo / Alamy

Over the last several months, the Keurig K-cup has become one of the most polarizing ways to make coffee in the world. There is obviously a huge majority of the population that absolutely loves it—last year alone, Keurig Green Mountain—the owners of the K-cup—sold more than 9 billion of them. But a vocal minority has been raising concerns over both business practices designed to inhibit competition and, more importantly, the massive environmental impact. That prompted John Sylvan, the inventor of the disposable brewing method, to say of his invention: “I feel bad sometimes I ever did it.”

Talking to the Atlantic’s James Hamblin in a great look at both sides of the Keurig debate, Sylvan confessed some of his misgivings about the sustainability of K-cups. He doesn’t believe that with their current construction, K-cups can ever be recyclable—not very many recycling centers in the world can even handle the grade of plastic that makes up the pods.

Thanks to the bout of bad press, though, Keurig has begun work to become more sustainable. As Hamblin points out, they are actively working on designs from new materials that won’t end up in a landfill—currently, the most promising is made of polypropylene. Keurig’s chief sustainability officer is also quick to point out that even though the pods aren’t recyclable, they are more efficient in other ways: machines use less electricity, and because they almost never produce leftover coffee, there is less wasted water.

Ultimately, though, it will come down to building a better pod. Sylvan even says he told Keurig how to do it involving a foil bag similar to a ketchup packet. We’ll have to wait and see if the company takes him up on it. Until then, K-cups don’t seem to be going anywhere. 

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