Not to make you feel bad about buying that Keurig your (spouse, child, parent, best friend) wanted for Christmas or anything, but did you know more than 9 billion of those little plastic cups end up in landfills every year? I love coffee, not to mention convenience, as much as anyone, but I’ve never been able to get behind the K-cup phenomenon that has swept over the country in the past few years. My parents are among the 12 percent of American households that now have one of the machines, which is helpful because my mom prefers decaf — they’ve always had two small coffeemakers so they could brew a pot of each at the same time — but at 50 to 75 cents a pop, they have also started to realize exactly how much more expensive that fancy machine is on their monthly grocery budget.
Granted, it’s not as much as a trip to Starbucks, but the cost isn’t what has really started to bother me. While we were visiting them over Thanksgiving, I couldn’t miss the small mountain of plastic cups that piled up in the trash can every morning. Multiply that waste by the millions of people who are switching from traditional coffee brewing methods to this specialty process and you’re looking at an embarrassing amount of non-biodegradable waste.
The company likes to tout the fact that the cups help you waste less coffee (and water), savings that seem minimal when you consider how much water (and energy and petroleum) is used to make the plastic in the cups. Keurig does sell a reusable mesh K-cup (which alone costs $15), which you can fill with your own finely ground coffee, and like Nespresso, the company now has a program that allows people to return their used cups by mail, but the process is complicated and expensive.
With parent company Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Keurig says it’s working on developing a recyclable cup, but a company called Crazy Cups (crazycups.com) might have beat them to the punch, claiming its new K-cups ($18.60 for 20) are the world’s first recyclable version. (To recycle them, you have to dissect the cup into three parts — aluminum lid, filter and plastic cup — and recycle individually.) Perhaps the best option on the market right now is from San Francisco Bay Coffee (sanfranciscobaycoffee.com), which sells single-serve OneCups ($6.99 for 12) that are 97 percent biodegradable. I can’t attest to the taste of the coffee, but biodegradable beats recyclable almost any day of the week.