I am one of the few people in America who has never had a cup of coffee. And no, thinking about it does not keep me up at night. What should keep me up at night, however, is the incredible amount of waste created by single-serve coffee and other beverage pods (a.k.a. K-Cups, k cups, kups). An estimated 20+ billion k cups will be consumed in 2015. Stack them end to end and yes, they do go pretty far outside of our planet. If you have a Keurig Green Mountain brewer in your guestrooms, lobby or breakfast area, it is most likely consuming non-recyclable polystyrene cups.
In an article posted this past week on Green Lodging News, I explore alternatives to the non-recyclable k cups. There are a number of companies either already offering recyclable or compostable capsules, or that will do so in the near future. Intelligent Blends, for example, offers a recyclable k cup made from a blend of #5 recyclable polypropylene along with other eco-friendly materials. G-Kup is developing a compostable product line and so too is Club Coffee.
There has been a lot of chatter in the media about k cups. John Sylvan, inventor of the k cup, said in an interview in Atlantic that he feels bad sometimes that he ever did it. Sylvan sold Keurig to Green Mountain in 1997 for $50,000. According to an article on TreeHugger, Keurig Green Mountain revenue topped $4.7 billion last year.
Almost as Common as a Toaster
The adoption rate of the single-serve brewers by North Americans has been astounding. They are becoming as common as a toaster. According to research by data firm NPD Group, 40 percent of Canadian homes have a single-serving coffee brewer. In the United States that number is closer to 30 percent.
The k cup dilemma has similarities to the amenity bottle, partially used soap problem but with its own unique issues. You have got the cup, lid, filter and contents to worry about. Waste Management says it can handle unseparated, recyclable k cups. Yet, not everyone has access to Waste Management services. One company, Recycle A Cup, offers a Recycle A Cup Cutter to assist in disassembling a k cup. Something tells me you will not be assigning that tedious task to anyone on your staff.
Interestingly, one Intelligent Blends customer, The Ranch at Laguna Beach in Laguna Beach, Calif., has plans to place display mat signage close to its single-serve coffee brewers to inform guests that they can place their cups in a container provided by the property. The signage explains that coffee grounds will be composted to be used in the Harvest Garden at the hotel. Intelligent Blends is providing the signage—a great way to consolidate recyclables/compostables and to add to the property’s sustainability story.
K cups, like amenity bottles and many other forms of packaging, were created without considering lifecycle/end of life issues. It is good to see innovative suppliers coming up with versions of the K-Cup that do consider recyclability and compostability. These greener versions do not offer the most sustainable way to deliver a cup of coffee or other beverage but they are at least better than their non-recyclable alternative.
Your thoughts? How do you deal with k cup waste? I would love to know. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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