Thursday, February 23, 2012

Coffee, K-Cups, and the Environment

k-Cup Single Cup Brewer
I don't drink coffee, although sometimes I wish I did as it is so much easier to get a cup of coffee than iced tea or even hot tea when away from home.  However, my husband is a coffee drinker and a few months ago the coffee machine at our place in Florida died after many years of faithful service and needed to be replaced.  Looking at the various options at various stores, I stumbled upon the Keurig, a coffee machine that makes single servings of coffee from individual packages.  I didn't think much of it, even though it seemed to me a tremendous waste of resources, because I assumed it was a "gourmet" item.  

Since my discovery of the Keurig, I've had to do some research on coffee.  After some discussion among friends about the coffee trade, I became a bit more aware of the different kinds of coffee while search for fair trade coffee.  Before my husband switched over to fair trade coffee (and tea and chocolate), I bought one kind of coffee for him that was readily available at the grocery store.  So, needless to say, I didn't look beyond that one can on the grocery store shelves.  However, it was in getting out of my usual coffee purchasing rut that I realized the Keurig machine is becoming the norm.  Everywhere I looked, I found packages of "K-Cup" coffee. 

Seems that the Keurig has become a common household appliance.  According to this article in the New York Times, about 4 million of these brewers were sold in the 13 week period prior to this past Christmas.  In addition, one coffee company has sold more than $715 million in K-cups.  Another company says it has sold over 27 billion individual K-cups since 1986.  Not only does this coffee generate tremendous waste, turns out purchasing coffee in individual serving packages means paying $51 a pound for coffee.  Compare this with the under $20 price tag on most high end coffee brands.  

On its website, Keurig talks about environmental responsibility, trying to reduce packaging, and making it easier to recycle the cups.  The fact remains, that these cups use precious petroleum in the manufacturing process and creates additional, unnecessary plastic waste.  Even if the cups could be easily recycled, most never would be as the current plastic recycling rate is less than 5% of all plastics.  Not a very good statistic.  In their defense, Keurig does make a My K-Cup, a reusable coffee filter that can be used with regular coffee.  However, it appears that most Keurig users prefer the convenience of the plastic, prepackaged K-Cups.

I need someone to explain to me how, during an economic downturn with high unemployment and stagnant wages and during a time when individuals should be extremely aware of environmental degradation,  this product has come to exist.  And that it has become so popular.

1 comment:

Shona~ LALA dex press said...

I was at Home Depot looking at their display, which is quite extensive. Not to mention an entire wall unit of the different cup brands and flavors... coffee... at Home Depot!

Here is what I think the perspective is in justifying the price, it's probably cheaper than a daily Starbucks habit. Although I'm just guessing on that.