Single-cup coffee is incredibly popular right now, but what happens to all of those single-use plastic pods? Does recycling K-cups make them less of an environmental problem?
When I used to work in a conventional corporate office, the bosses got a Keurig machine for our break room, and people were so excited! I felt like a total Debbie Downer. The one person in the office who didn’t see fancy coffees any time I wanted. I saw mountains of plastic waste. What a buzzkill!
But at least a realistic buzzkill? Those plastic K-cups aren’t recyclable unless you take the time (and water) to clean out the grounds. If you toss a drity K-cup into the recycling, the recycle center is just going to send it to the landfill. In a recent post at our sister site Sustainablog, Jeff McIntire-Strasburg explores a company that will recycle dirty K-cups and the pros and cons of that operation.
But does recycling K-cups mean that we should drink those Keurig coffees with abandon? I’d argue that it doesn’t.
For one thing, those cups are made from plastic. Plastic that gets hot when you make your cup of coffee. That means that you’re probably drinking plastic, because plastic tends to leach chemicals when you heat it up. Especially when that hot liquid is acidic, like coffee or tea.
When you recycle a K-cup, that plastic goes to a recycling center where it’s turned into other plastic products. Plastic recycling is certainly better than sending plastic to the landfills, but it’s not a silver bullet. Plastic recycling should really be called downcycling. When you send plastic to a recycling center, it’s turned into lower-quality plastic goods. Recycling K-cups does prolong that plastic’s usefulness, but it’s essentially a pit stop on the way to the landfill.
I agree with what Jeff said in his piece – recycling K-cups is better than tossing them in the trash. I guess I just wish that we could do better when it comes to single-cup coffee. What if we ditched our K-cups for good, old-fashioned French press coffee or scooped our own coffee into reusable K-cup filters instead?