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Mar 19, 2013 11:35 AM

The environmental unfriendliness of K cups?

I wouldn't describe myself as the most environmentally conscious person, but as I emptied the K cup bin at work this afternoon, it occurred to me that this is quite the waste. It seems that in many other arenas from plastic bags at the grocery store to reusable coffee mugs that the pressure is on to reduce waste, but I haven't heard much argument against the massive spread of K cups or even encouragement for office buildings to potentially seek other options. I guess the convenience outweighs the criticisms. How do you feel about K cups in an environmental sense? Do you personally use them, your office?

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  1. I was gifted one of those coffee makers a few years ago. I tried a dozen different cups and all I tasted from each was plastic. I gave the machine away and have not drank coffee from one of those vile things since. As to the waste, that is simply another reason to despise them. I'll stick with my French press or the old school percolator I sumtimes bust out when company's over.

    1. I thought I was the only one that found the plastic waste abhorrent. I know they make reusable cups but I've never seen anyone using them, anywhere, and the makers are everywhere now - doctors' offices, etc. It's a huge step backward for the environment and for coffee as far as I'm concerned.

      1 Reply
      1. re: rockandroller1

        Yea, there's a Keurig around every corner. In fact, my lovely mother has sent me 2 of the same machine. I guess she forgot and thought it was so fabulous that she sent another. I know at least where I work, most people drink at least 3 or 4 of their favorite beverage a day which for a hospital adds up!

      2. Honestly just get an Ekobrew. $12 on You can use any coffee you want and have zero waste. I have 4 of them and we have not bought a k-cup in over a year. Best investment ever for my Keurig machine. I buy coffee from a local roaster so the cost per cup is about .27.

        2 Replies
        1. re: lab5511

          I got mine for $2 each when the local store dropped them for lack of sales! Works great if you put in stronger coffee. Most k-cup coffee is weak, so the reusable insert allows for better cup of joe anyway.

          1. re: lab5511

            As I noted below - my coworkers won't use them.

          2. It seems like a fad to me and the waste of plastic is disturbing. There is an artist that gathers random items - computer disk drives, for example - piles them up and takes a picture. The garbage of just that one item is a mountain.

            Anyway I hope reusable k-cups will become the standard. Or in the least biodegradable ones. If this thing won't go away...

            22 Replies
            1. re: youareabunny

              I've never seen the reusable cups but makes sense and a great idea - convenience without the waste. I actually rarely use the k-cup machine but everytime I brew the occasional cup of tea it hits me that there are likely landfills full of these things

              1. re: fldhkybnva

                Along with ecobrew as mentioned above, another one is available for $15


                I guess this would only work at home, as in the office it could get lost or broken easily. Still I wonder if people would bother, it's an extra step to fill and clean this cup and a big part of the attraction with the system is convenience.

                I'm all for convenience but if I can take 2 extra minutes and to contribute less trash, I'll do that. But for some people, the world is their oyster... or trash bin.

                1. re: youareabunny

                  What's the trade off between trash and waste water? One Kcup = ? gallons of wash water?

                  At home I often make coffee with a small sauce pan and strainer - plus the water to wash them out. But when camping, wash water is precious (especially it's disposal). There I prefer to use a paper filter, which goes into the trash, and requires little cleanup.

                  Similarly in an office, washing out a French Press requires a lot more water (in the washroom) than filter or Kcup.

                  1. re: paulj

                    Waste water is treated and either reused or returned to the ocean. Plastic involves the manufacturing, transportation, waste, etc.

                    1. re: youareabunny

                      Yes but potable water requires a huge amount of energy to treat it and pump it then afterwards run it through a wastewater treatment plant before it goes back into the ocean. I'm not saying k-cups are the solution to our problems but one must consider the entire costs.

                      1. re: RC51Mike

                        I would guess similar energy is used to manufacture and transport said cups.

                2. re: fldhkybnva

                  I don't get the K-cups for tea or cocoa because they aren't traditionally "brewed". It's just as easy to run hot water through the Keurig and use a traditional teabag or packet of cocoa.

                  1. re: ferret

                    This is actually what I do, I use it for hot water but in the process run into the cup bin because it won't run water if it's full.

                3. re: youareabunny

                  I don't think they are a fad. The shelf space devoted to them grows every few months.

                  As much as I dislike the environmental aspects of the packaging I think they are here to stay. They offer enormous variety and minimize cleanup issues for offices. My cousin, who doesn't drink coffee but hosts many bridge parties, loves being able to offer exactly what each guest likes and not worry about perish-ability/storage/cleanup from week to week.

                  I see them in use in many waiting areas - my mechanics, my doctors, my accountant...I think that type of usage will just keep growing.

                  1. re: meatn3

                    I agree, it's likely to keep growing as it is so popular. I not only have 2 in my house, albeit which don't get used, but they are as you mention literally everywhere.

                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                      But the end product is so lousy. Why does it keep growing in popularity? Is convenience that much more important than quality?

                      1. re: MGZ

                        I think so. At least at my office, no one really balks at the quality, they just need coffee, it's 4 steps away and so it wins over the coffeeshop downstairs which might offer better coffee but requires more effort and money. For me personally, the convenience does not outweigh the quality. I've never actually tried it as it just didn't seem like it'd make a very good pot of coffee and I usually either make coffee at home or buy before work. If I'm at work and feel the heavy eyelids I just brew tea or deal with it.

                        1. re: MGZ

                          We have free office coffee from a traditional brewing commercial type machine and it is SO SO BAD. Like airplane or hospital vending machine bad. I call it the "Desperation Coffee." I admit that when they installed the keurig on the other side of the floor I tried to resist it for awhile, but even though it's weak it's nowhere near as bad as the desperation coffee. It's free. That's why I drink it.

                          1. re: rockandroller1

                            I think you hit the nail on the head. Not only do my colleagues jump at the offer of free coffee, but free food as well which often resembles dog food, but it's free so they eat it. No judgments here, just highlighting that convenience and price is likely a big factor here.

                            1. re: rockandroller1

                              Isn't there a way of adjusting the strength of Kcups?

                              1. re: paulj

                                I think so. The machine has different cup sizes so presumably if you brewed with less water it would be stronger.

                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                  I not only select the smaller cup size, but we're also buying the Italian roast, bold K-cups. Better than most fast food coffees.

                                2. re: paulj

                                  Depends on the machine. We had a commercial unit at work that needed frequent re-calibration. Otherwise there are machines that offer different cup sizes from the same K-Cup which will obviously decrease strength as size increases (and vice versa).

                              2. re: MGZ

                                Some people think a mediocre cup of coffee was just fine. Prior to me bringing the Keurig into my relationship (I won it in a contest), my SO was drinking Folgers. So for him, the K-cups work out just fine.

                            2. re: meatn3

                              It may be planned marketing rather than consumer demand. Target cut back on selling other coffee makers and stocked a ton of those various cup machines. Then almost all the regular coffee went away including the espresso I used to buy there. Now there is an entire aisle stocked mostly with 101 varieties of k cup type coffees. Target makes a ton more money selling people coffee in tiny plastic cups at an inflated price than they ever did selling bulk coffee. Companies don't start selling these new systems because they love customers. They come up with new ways to make more cash. I consider the whole k cup thing to be like Swiffers. They make consumers part with more cash repeatedly, put more waste into the system for a small convenience.

                              1. re: blackpointyboots

                                Except Target is a discount store, in the mold of Kmart and Walmart. It was their parent department store, Daytons (in Mpls) that aimed for margin. I doubt if the profit margin for the retailer is any higher on Kcups than on bulk.

                                A while back I bought a manual Kcup 'machine' at Target. It was clearance priced. I also bought reusable cups. So far the only prefilled cups that I've used were a set of 3 from Target ($2), and a package of 7 from Trader Joes. The TJ cups are are from Canada, and have a slightly different design. The basic Kcup patent has expired, though some improvement patents are still in force.

                                1. re: blackpointyboots

                                  Just think about disposable razors...that's where it all started

                              1. re: paulj

                                Thanks, I hadn't read much about the advantages of K cups, interesting.