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Cut open k-cupDo you have a single-cup coffee maker in your home or office? Chances are it's a Keurig brewing system, also known as a k-cup system, which uses single portion cups of coffee grounds to brew each cup of coffee.


The garbage from these k-cups is a large environmental issue due the amount of waste. Because the k-cup is made of plastic integrated with a coffee filter, coffee grounds, and plastic foil top, there is no easy way to separate the components for recycling. The Green Mountain Coffee Company who produces the k-cup coffee has acknowledged their k-cup coffee garbage is an issue and that they don't have k-cup recycling facilities.

Life of a K-Cup

Let's look at the lifecycle of a k-cup.

  1. The plastic cup is produced from oil (oil is the raw material for plastic), in a factory that uses a lot of energy (contributing to global warming).
  2. The k-cup must then be lined with a coffee filter, filled with coffee, and then sealed with a plastic foil top, which requires more energy.
  3. The k-cup is then packed in a box board container (made from trees, which requires a significant amount of energy), and a number of box board containers are then packed into a corrugated cardboard box for shipping.
  4. The k-cup boxes are then transported by ship and truck from around the world to coffee distributors (requiring a great deal of fossil-fuel).
  5. The coffee distributors then transport the coffee to stores or offices (requiring the use of fossil-fuel).
  6. Cant Be RecycledWhen the k-cups finally reach the consumer, they drop it in the machine, make one cup of coffee, and throw the k-cup garbage in the trash.
  7. But the story doesn't end there... the trash needs to be picked up by a garbage truck and transported to a landfill where it will remain and produce methane gas (a significant greenhouse gas contributing to global warming) as the coffee grounds cannot biodegrade due to the lack of oxygen.

k-cup partsSo while it may seem cool and convenient to use a k-cup coffee maker, there is a lot of energy used and garbage as a result of using the system. There isn't a way to separate the recycling material, therefore there isn't any k-cup recycling. This is why a k-cup system is an environmental issue.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

When you can't recycle it, reduce it or reuse it. The traditional way of making coffee is a much better choice for the environment. The coffee filter and coffee grounds can be composted, and there's no plastic of foil lid to dispose of for each cup of coffee. Better yet, use a reusable (metal) coffee filter so you're not using paper filters! If you wish to only make single servings of coffee, consider a coffee maker that uses reusable coffee filters instead of disposable k-cups. It's a smart choice for the environment.

For more ideas on how to reduce your waste, see our green tips for products & services.