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Are K Cups Recyclable?

The Keurig K Cup has become extremely popular over the last couple of years. But their use is cause for concern when it comes to recycling them.

On the surface the K Cup is a great idea. One K Cup brews a single perfect cup of coffee (using Keurig’s patented design brewer of course). They are particularly conveient for hotels, conference centers and snack bars. They produce less coffee waste since only one cup is brewed at a time, and the coffee is higher quality than most coffee brewed by the full pot.

Anatomy of the K Cup

The K Cup is made of three layers:

  1. The outer plastic cup which doesn’t allow oxygen, moisture or sunlight to penetrate, thereby keeping the coffee fresh.
  2. The ‘sophisticated’ filter.
  3. The sealed foil cap.

Because these layers are melded together to form a single unit they are difficult to recycle.

Are K Cups Recyclable?

Yes….and no. In their original form they cannot be recycled. There is not a single stream facility capable of separating its components, and manual sorting systems won’t find the effort worth the reward.

Keurig reports that the K Cup is 2/3 recyclable. The foil lid can be recycled with your other aluminum and the filter can be recycled with your paper. BUT you have to go to the effort of disassembling the cup before you can recycle those items. The plastic used in the K Cup is not recyclable as it is not a #1 through #7 plastic, so even if you go through the exercise of separating the materials you’ll still be throwing the cup itself in the trash.

Alternatives to K Cups

Keurig claims that the packaging in their K Cups constitutes only a fraction of the environmental impact involved in the life cycle of its coffee. They also point out that the plastic cup is BPA free. However, they are continuing to research ways to make the K Cup more environmentally friendly.

As an alternative to the disposable K Cup, Keurig is now offering the My K Cup. This is a reuseable mesh filter that meets the size and capacity specifications of the original K Cup which can be used in Keurig brewers with any type of coffee.

Of course, another option is not to use them at all and go back to the standard coffee maker.

Ideas for K Cup reuse

  • K Cups are the perfect size for starting seeds indoors that will be transplanted to an outdoor garden later.
  • K Cups are useful in crafts, and some schools will accept them for classroom art projects.
  • The K Cup can be reused in the coffee maker by taking out the old filter and coffee and replacing them with another paper filter, such as regular coffee filters or paper towels cut down to size, and fresh grounds.

Keurig launches an EPR program for its K Cups

In 2011 Keurig launched the Grounds to Grow On program. Keurig will take back the K-Cups, but only from commercial customers (i.e. hotels, restaurants, etc.) and only in 22 states. Businesses must purchase the collection bins at $59.75 for five small containers that will hold 175 cups each, or $114.75 for a larger bin that holds 450 cups. The price includes the cost of shipping the containers back to the company.

It should be noted, however, that this is not a recycling program. Keurig composts the grounds, but the cup itself is incinerated in a waste-to-energy plant run by Covanta Energy. WTE plants are themselves controversial, so there is some debate over whether this option is any better than landfilling. But the pros and cons of WTE are for another post.

All images courtesy of hubpages.com


Follow up…

Now there’s a company that has a reusable eco-friendly alternative that will fit your Keurig brewer and save you money.
javajig Replacement Filter for K-Cup and Premium Coffee

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