environmental problem brewing
*Updated August, 2019 for accuracy

Pod coffee makers are killing the environment

Several years ago I became enamored with the efficiency of the single-brew Keurig coffee makers.  The idea that everyone in the household could brew the hot drink of their choice was very appealing.  The Keurigs use coffee, tea or hot chocolate pods to make a single cup at a time. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?  Single brewing systems are the second most popular way to brew coffee after the traditional drip methods. Almost one in three American homes now have a single-brew coffee machine and they are very popular in offices as well.  In spite of all that, my bubble has been burst – apparently, there is a dangerous and dark environmental downside.

In 2013 Keurig Green Mountain produced 8.3 billion K-Cups that were brewed in Keurig machines worldwide. Most of those K-Cups were not recyclable. The few that were recyclable needed to be separated into paper, metal and plastic – more time than most consumers would be willing to spend.


Photo credit – www.scenviro.com

8.3 billion K-Cup pods lined up side by side would circle the globe 10.5 times.  In 2014 K-Cup production rose to 9.8 billion, enough to circle the Earth more than 12 times.

In 2015 a Canadian company called Egg Studios looked at the environmental impact of all those K-Cups.  The video is called “Kill the K-Cup” and it depicts the eventual destruction of the world by K-Cups.  It is fantasy but it makes the point that any company today making anything disposable must make it recyclable or biodegradable.

The man who invented the Keurig coffee machine claims to feel terribly guilty about the environmental disaster his invention is causing.  John Sylvan hatched the Keurig machine in the early 1990s. He sold his share of the company in 1997 and regrets the day he ever thought up the single-brew idea.

In 2014 Keurig Green Mountain made only 5% of its pods out of recyclable plastic.  The company recently released a sustainability report announcing that it vows to have K Cup pods totally recyclable by 2020. There are a total of six other sustainability targets outlined on their website.

coffee pods

Note:  It turns out that the price of the coffee inside the pods can be almost $50.00 a pound! A cup of Green Mountain coffee brewed by pod costs 68 cents versus a regular cup of Green Mountain coffee traditionally brewed costs 44 cents.

Bottom line:  I’m going back to either a French press or an old-fashioned drip coffee machine. Bonus – coffee grounds, and their filters, are excellent for composting as nitrogen sources. Tea leaves and tea bags can go in the pile, too!