In 2017, coffee pods were a 5 billion dollar industry. In other words, an estimated 16 million U.S. households have a single-serve brewer, $65 machines that are rendered useless without a constant supply of coffee pods, or K-cups.
The inventor of the Keurig pod-based coffee machine, John Sylvan never imagined or intended for the ultra-convenient kitchen appliance to be used outside of offices. He designed the original K-Cup in the early nineties as a replacement for coffee pots that provided a beverage that would become stale and bitter over the course of the day.
In 2013, K-Cups made up the majority of Keurig Green Mountain’s $4.7 billion in revenue.
A whopping 9 billion K-cups were purchased that year, even though the cups were not recyclable or biodegradable.
The cups are incredibly environmentally-unfriendly, because they are made out of plastic #7, a blend of plastics which cannot be recycled by most city recycling programs. Furthermore, recycling isn’t a good solution itself.
Most plastic meant to be “recycled” is shipped to China, downcycled into polyester and microfiber garments, which generate microplastics that end up in waterways after washing. In 2017, China began restricting plastic waste importation, causing giant buildups of plastic trash at recycling centers internationally.”
Looking back on his invention, Sylvan told The Atlantic in 2015, “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it. It's like a cigarette for coffee, a single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance.”
The script of a viral YouTube video condemning K-Cups, in 2014 states that so many were sold that, “placed end-to-end, they would circle the globe 10.5 times. Almost all of them ended up in landfills. They are not recyclable. Using them is extremely wasteful and irresponsible; they are a stupid way to make coffee that simply cannot be sustained. Stop using them, stop using them, stop using them; ‘Kill the K-Cup, before it kills our planet.’”
After being bought out by Keurig several years ago, Sylvan started a company that sells solar panels, partly to make up for the massive environmental contamination he had a part in creating.