A warning shot across Keurig’s unrecyclable bow

Here’s an interesting tidbit from across the pond. Citing environmental concerns, the city of Hamburg, Germany has banned Keurig-style coffee pods from all government office buildings.

Lest you think, “Oh, isn’t that cute?” bear in mind that Hamburg has a population of 1.7 million people. It’s the second biggest city in Germany, and the eighth largest in the European Union.

As part of a guide to green procurement, the German city of Hamburg last month introduced a ban on buying “certain polluting products or product components” with council money. The ban includes specific terms for “equipment for hot drinks in which portion packaging is used” – specifically singling out the “Kaffeekapselmaschine”, or coffee capsule machine, which accounts for one in eight coffees sold in Germany.

“These portion packs cause unnecessary resource consumption and waste generation, and often contain polluting aluminum,” the report says.

This isn’t a Big Deal, not yet; but it is a Deal, and it ought to be causing a bit of concern at Keurig Green Mountain’s Waterbury headquarters. Because if Hamburg becomes a trendsetter, Keurig could start seeing large markets snap shut.

The capsules can’t be recycled easily because they are often made of a mixture of plastic and aluminum,” adds Jan Dube, spokesman of the Hamburg Department of the Environment and Energy.

The complexity of the packaging – often a mix of different materials – combined with the dregs of organic waste from unused ground coffee sitting in the bottom of the pod makes them difficult to process in standard municipal recycling plants.

KGM is painfully aware of that. It’s been trying for years to devise a recyclable coffee pod without success. In fact, KGM appears to have punted on the whole idea: its current “solution” is something called the Recycle A Cup Cutter. ($12.99 for a packet of two.) It’s a plastic cap with a recessed cutting tool. Put the Cutter on top of a K-Cup, rotate the cup, and the K-Cup’s components are separated. The aluminum lid and plastic cup can be recycled; the coffee grounds, KGM helpfully advises, can be composted.

That’s a whole lot of effort for a tiny bit of recycling. You’d have to wait for the K-Cup to cool down for safe handling, for starters; and you’d have to deal with coffee dregs. Nice try, Keurig, but most people are gonna keep chuckin’ ‘em in the trash.

Also, I don’t know about your trash hauler, but mine won’t accept items that are too small. They tend to jam up the machinery.

The Cutter won’t satisfy the city of Hamburg, either. Could this ban jumpstart KGM’s research on creating an easily recyclable K-Cup? Not by itself. But if the ban begins to spread, then watch out. KGM will have a problem on its hands.

Well, aside from the more fundamental problem with K-Cups:

“It’s 6g of coffee in 3g of packaging,” says Dube. “We in Hamburg thought that these shouldn’t be bought with taxpayers’ money.”

He’s got a point there. FIscal conservatives should be demanding that their own governments stop using Kaffeekapselmaschinen and go back to old-fashioned coffee makers.

KGM’s got plenty on its hands already, what with consumer resistance to its 2.0 brewing system and iffy prospects for its Keurig Kold beverage maker. Now, it might just face a significant existential challenge from societies interested in living sustainably.

2 thoughts on “A warning shot across Keurig’s unrecyclable bow

  1. nortryder

    If anyone has any concern about out growing waste-stream they would be foolish to us those nasty non-recyclable nightmares. Being involved in solid waste I see those things everywhere. The only reason not to make them compostable is greed and laziness. Oh, and their coffee sucks as well. 🙂

  2. Brooke Paige

    As John points out “The End is (probably) Near !”

    I have long thought that the whole “K-Cup” thing was far too expensive – costly machine, outrageous cost/ounce finished product, disposal troubles. The grim reaper has been waiting at the door for a long time already, soon he will harvest what is due him !


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