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Originally published February 15, 2014 at 8:02 PM | Page modified February 17, 2014 at 12:27 PM

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Coffee pods’ convenience has environmental price tag

Recycling the little containers made from a mix of plastics, papers and foils is “virtually impossible,” says one expert.


Seattle Times business reporter

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The raging popularity of coffee pods also comes with a yet-unconquered environmental hurdle.

The reason: The cups are generally a miniature assortment of different types of plastic, paper, metal and coffee grounds that makes it hard for recyclers to process.

Moreover, the cups are so small that they often fall through the cracks of most recycling facilities, experts say.

“It’s virtually impossible to recycle all of this stuff,” said Darby Hoover, senior resources specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit.

“It’s a complex issue. We haven’t cracked the code yet,” said T.J. Whalen, an executive with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, the owner of Keurig, which manufactures the most popular single-serve brew format, the K-cup. The company is committed to finding a way to produce recyclable cups, he said.

In the meantime, Green Mountain has launched a new brewing format, called Vue; its cups are made of No. 5 plastic, which is recyclable in many cities in the U.S.

Starbucks says the main body of its Verisimo cup is made of No. 5 plastic. The company, however, encourages consumers to check with their local waste authority and acknowledges that the small size of the pod “can sometimes be a barrier to recycling.”

Nespresso and others have established proprietary-recycling programs, but most require used capsules to be dropped off at a store or shipped to a specialized facility. Green Mountain has a take-back program that recycles coffee grounds into agricultural use and the remnants of the K-cup to be burned for fuel, but it’s only available to workplace customers.

In short, dealing with the waste can be inconvenient for consumers who bought into the single-cup category for convenience’s sake, Hoover said.

She said that while single-serve brewers help reduce the amount of coffee wasted, their widespread adoption in households has created a huge waste of “so many other materials that don’t really have to exist.”

Ángel González: 206-464-2250 or agonzalez@seattletimes.com. On Twitter: @gonzalezseattle



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