$3.1 billion spent on little K-cups last year... too bad the k-cups are not (at all) environmentally friendly

Although I over paid for my SoloFill reuseable k-cup (see my previous posts below or use the search box to the right) I have used it so many times in the last few weeks that it has paid for itself over and over again multiple times (even if I did pay $5 too much by purchasing it locally at Bed, Bath & Beyond instead of ordering it online for less than ten bucks).   I love coffee of all types so I may brew a k-cup, use a reusable cup, make a traditional 'pot' of coffee or use a French Press, my espresso machine or even my Mr. Coffee Iced Frappe Maker... the list goes on. 

But I DO think about the waste in all those little k-cups.  Last year I even started to save them in a bag.  I would painstakingly cut the aluminum lids off, empty the coffee grounds on the garden and tried to use the little plastic cups for seed sprouting.  Very labor intensive and in the end, the cups were thrown out anyway.  So... that plan failed.

While reading the news (I'm a news junky) I always stop to read 'coffee' related news.   These two articles were interesting on the prolific use of k-cups and the effect they are having on our environment.  I'm just putting a couple snips here but you can go to the source for the whole article.

Source:  Mother Jones

When Keurig launched its specialized brewing system in 1998, it might have come off as a bit niche. Not anymore. According to a survey by the National Coffee Association, nearly 1 in 5 adults drank single-cup-brewed coffee yesterday, making it the second most popular way to brew after the traditional drip methods—and far more popular than espresso machines.

The single-serve method has experienced impressive growth: According to the Seattle Times, while US consumers bought $132 million worth of coffee pods in 2008, they forked over $3.1 billion for them last year, compared to $6 billion for roasted coffee and $2.5 billion in instant coffee. Keurig also has similar brewing systems and pods for tea and iced beverages, and will roll out a system for Campbell's soup later this year.

Critics warn that the packaging needed for these systems comes with environmental and health-related costs. By making each pod so individualized, and so easy to dispose of, you must also exponentially increase the packaging—packaging that ultimately ends up in landfills. (And that's to say nothing of the plastic and metal brewing systems, which if broken, aren't that easy to recycle either.)

  Journalist Murray Carpenter estimates in his new book, Caffeinated, that a row of all the K-Cups produced in 2011 would circle the globe more than six times. To update that analogy: In 2013, Green Mountain produced 8.3 billion K-Cups, enough to wrap around the equator 10.5 times.

Green Mountain only makes 5 percent of its current cups out of recyclable plastic. The rest of them are made up of a #7 composite plastic, which is nonrecyclable in most places. And for the small few that are recyclable, the aluminum lid must be separated from the cup, which also must be emptied of its wet grounds, for the materials to make it through the recycling process. Even then, chances are the pod won't be recycled because it's too small, says Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist at the National Resources Defense Council.

Keurig just released a sustainability report announcing that the company plans to make all coffee pods recyclable by 2020, among other ecofriendly efforts. The company says it's evaluating the type of plastic used in the cups, exploring potential biodegradable and compostable packaging, and coming up with an easier way for customers to easily prepare them for recycling.

Some competitors already have recyclable or biodegradable versions of this single-serve pod; Nespresso's lid and pod (Nespresso Tea Coffee Compatible Pod) is made entirely from aluminum. A Canadian brand, Canterbury Coffee, makes a version that it says is 92 percent biodegradable (everything save for the nylon filter can break down). Finding a substitute is an interesting challenge, says Keurig spokeswoman Sandy Yusen, because coffee is perishable, and so the material used must prevent light, oxygen, and moisture from degrading the coffee.

Another reason to look beyond plastic is a concern with what could leach out of the material when heated. Yusen confirmed that the #7 plastic used in K-Cups is BPA-free, safe, and "meets or exceeds applicable FDA standards." But new evidence suggests that even non-BPA plastics can test positive for estrogenic activity.

"No. 7 plastic means 'other,'" says the NRDC's Hoover. "You don't know what it is." One concern with this plastic mix is the presence of polystyrene, containing the chemical styrene, which Hoover warns is especially worrisome for workers. A possible carcinogen, styrene can wreak havoc on the nervous systems of those handling it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The chemical also shows up in tobacco smoke and home copy machines, and in the Styrofoam used in food containers.

One concern with this plastic mix is the presence of polystyrene, containing the chemical styrene, which Hoover warns is especially worrisome for workers. A possible carcinogen, styrene can wreak havoc on the nervous systems of those handling it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…

"Keurig would not tell me what types of plastic go into its #7 blend, 
saying the information was proprietary, nor would it confirm or deny 
the presence of polystyrene in the mix."

 Source: Grist.org

The problem, as you noted, is the K-Cups, and how they contribute to our throwaway culture. Each wee plastic cup has a filter sealed inside by an aluminum foil lid. “The polyethylene coating of the foil — as well as the process of heat-sealing the various elements — makes recycling difficult,” says Keurig. So not only are millions of K-Cups being manufactured, transported, and used every day, but after about 60 seconds, they’re destined for the landfill.

What a coffee conundrum. “Does it make sense to put fair-trade coffee in a disposable petroleum-based package?” asks writer Lillian Laurence. Indeed, it’s a bit puzzling. Why would Keurig, whose corporate mothership is the fair trade and organic coffee company Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, sell a product that creates so much waste? (The irony was not lost on The New York Times last year.)

Keurig admits the problem in its site’s “sustainability” section, saying “We understand that the impact of the K-Cup® Portion Pack waste stream is one of our most significant environmental challenges.”

You might also be interested in browsing;