Recycling Coffee & Shingles
I really like good coffee – who doesn’t – and one of the best ways to get a good cup of coffee these days is the Keurig brewer and its ubiquitous K-cup. It makes a single cup of good quality coffee, quickly. However, what happens to the spent brewing cup is another story. A K-Cup is a coffee machine in a cup, and has several component parts, including a multilayer plastic that isn’t easily recycled; a foil cover; a filter; and of course a little coffee. So unlike coffee grounds and a paper filter, which make great compost, there just isn’t a simple solution for recycling K-cups.
I recently had the chance to speak to Dr. George K. Criner, Director of the School of Economics at the University of Maine, along with doctoral candidate Travis Blackmer. They study waste issues (and have had the pleasure of sorting many thousands of bags of household & office trash). Dr. Criner said that the K-Cup is a perfect example of how the modern waste stream is getting more complex. The single serve convenience of the K-Cup is hard to beat, but the recyclability is low. And there’s a lot of packaging per serving. In fact, in a quick study performed by Blackmer, the coffee to packaging ratio, by weight, of a bag of ground coffee is about 16:1. A red tub of coffee like you’re familiar with, is about 8:1. A K-Cup is about 1.4 to 1 – the amount of packaging is almost the same as the amount of coffee – and of course it only makes one cup.
One thing that we are trying now in our Wayne, New Jersey headquarters is the Grounds to Grow On K-Cup recycling program. With this system, you receive pre-paid mailback packages to collect K-Cups. Recycling is a volume game – almost anything is recycling, if you can get enough of it in one place – and this program allows Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to collect a large volume of used K-Cups, separate the portion pack components, compost the coffee, and burn the plastic in a waste-to-energy facility. This is not as simple as recycling shingles (people often say that shingles, ground and ready to be added to hot mix pavement, look like coffee grounds) but is certainly progress.
Do you use K-Cups? Have you found a good way to recycle them?