Tag Archives: sustainability

Waste Watch: Keurig Single Cup Brewers

Have you seen one of these?  Recently, I stayed at a place that had one, and tried to quickly block it out of my mind.  Here I am, face to face with this complete waste of space.  It’s clear there’s a lack of thought with regards to disposal here.  Instead of asking Keurig about their product line, I’d rather share my reservations with you to see what you think (and I’ll also ask them in the meantime).

In case you aren’t aware of these things, it’s a single serve coffee machine that sells you on the point that you get a fresh cup of coffee in a minute or less by using these questionable junk plastic cups.  They might be recyclable (no obvious marking on them although they claim they’re polypropylene), but more importantly the process is extremely wasteful.

One of their competitors (I think?  Who knows who owns who anymore?) teamed up with Terracycle to have a collection process to compost the contents and recycle the cups into another use (program no longer in operation).  I applaud Terracycle’s creativity and their founder is a great dude, but they shouldn’t need to exist if everything was handled by the companies that create the mess.  “Awesome solutions for ignorant problems” should be their real slogan.

I recently reposted a great article by Mike Ewall that explains how societal problems are shifted onto us the consumer and away from the corporations that need to be addressing them.  Keurig falls squarely into this of course, and they address the problem with a few copy/paste corporate paragraphs you’ve read before…here we go:

“The manufacturing requirements of the K-Cup® pack currently make recycling difficult. The K-Cup® pack is made up of three main elements: the cup itself, a filter and an aluminum foil top. The pack’s components prevent oxygen, light and moisture from degrading the coffee. Without the barrier the packaging materials provide, we could not maintain quality or freshness. However, we are actively working to meet the challenge of creating a pack that reduces environmental impact and continues to deliver an extraordinary cup of coffee.”

So is Keurig implying that all coffee that comes in kraft paper bags (100% compostable) isn’t going to provide a quality fresh cup?  Even though any coffee that you get in kraft paper bags, grind the beans yourself and use a french press will taste eons better and not have any waste (compost the bag, use the tin tie in any number of ways)?  Stating the obvious, this appliance is purely for convenience.  I wonder how many people that have one of these ever make their own coffee with a press?  Those that do must wonder about the waste of this thing, right?

They also remind me of the ultimate corporate cup, which must be a good part of their market… I’ve witnessed a collection effort at an office space for a similar system (a Terracycle program existed at one point), and the feedback was that it was a pain to even do that.  No one trusted that the collection resulted in any real reduction or recycling, which doesn’t surprise me that much.  It’s a shame, because they were taking action and became disenchanted.

Back to the company paragraph: Saying “we’re working on it” is the best way to never do anything and to forever shut up those that are looking to see what you’re doing (I love saying “coming soon” or “working on it” to buy myself time to write about stuff when I really need to clear my head and keep myself from whining like I’m doing here…maybe that’s what they’re doing but I highly doubt it). Polypropylene leaches toxins.  Blasting steaming hot water through it is going to leach crap into your cup, beyond the infamous BPA.  It’s used because it’s strong and lighter than other plastics?  For flavor protection or profit margin?

Of course they mention that recycling polypropylene is available in most places around the U.S…. but because it’s collected doesn’t mean it’s recycled by any means.  I wish I didn’t know that, but I do.

Simple solution to all of this?  Buy your own bag of beans in a kraft paper bag (or biodegradable PLA lined if you must) instead of those shiny plastic bags that have no end use.  Press your own coffee.  Leave it at that.  Spend the couple of minutes and enjoy your coffee that you made by yourself.  Plan B: buy your cup from a respectable coffee shop (whatever that means).  Plan C: Drink more water.  Plan D: If you have to have the convenience of this product, please contact them and demand a change to their process.

Solution for Keurig?  Use paper cups (think ketchup cups at fast food establishments) and experiment with wax liners (if you’re already doing that, talk about it!).  Could it really taste any worse?  Better yet, focus on your coffee and give your machines a rest.  Why is it acceptable to be so wasteful?  Yep, we made people lazier at the expense of more plastic waste, more ingested toxins and a crappier cup of coffee.  Cheers mate!

Update: Keurig makes a reusable K-Cup.  Yes, this is nice.

Next, they need a cup  manufactured from a material that gets recycled.

Choking on plastic.

Food Truck Foolery

The other day I decided to get lunch somewhere else and I found an arrepa truck.  I haven’t had one of those since I’d been to Colombia, so I thought this was going to be automatically awesome.

They had a veggie black bean arrepa.  It was really good.  Now let’s back up.  When you think of getting an arrepa, how much material do you need to pack it up?  You already know exactly where this is going.  Onward!

The arrepa was in a styrofoam clamshell (seriously?), handed to me inside of a paper bag.  I quickly handed the paper bag back to him, and he seemed puzzled.  What am I supposed to do with the paper bag?  I don’t want napkins, I don’t need a fork or anything, and surprisingly I was never offered these things anyway (good job).

I think he sensed I was “that guy” as soon as I gave the bag back, but what am I to do?  Take it?  I don’t want it and it’s a waste.  Maybe one day I’ll see someone else give back a bag or utensils (or better yet make a suggestion about material choices), but so far no such luck in the 5 years of occasionally getting lunch during work.

I asked him why they were using Styrofoam and suggested that it’s not a good look.  He mumbled something about consideration of costs… yeah, I get that.  You want to save a few pennies per sale, and yes it adds up.  I really didn’t feel like talking about it anymore, so I just walked away, feeling like a jackass carrying a clam shell with me, and even more so for asking at all.

At the nearest corner, I removed the clamshell, crushed it in half and put it in the recycling can, knowing damn well that nothing will happen to it although it is a plastic that can be recycled (although it’s astronomically cheaper to produce new virgin styrofoam).

Oh no!  A contaminant.  I’d rather place it there, knowing it will be mechanically separated from the rest of the materials and acknowledged as material that isn’t going away, instead of trashing it where it won’t get another look.

Here’s the kicker: the arrepa was wrapped in aluminum foil inside the clamshell.  So let me get this straight: you’re worried about costs, but you’re triple packaging an item you’re selling to me.  How about sell me the thing in the aluminum foil and that’s it?

I walked 15 minutes back to my desk where it was still piping hot, without the aid of Styrofoam’s wonderful insulation properties (that still don’t justify its existence in the first place).  That guy can make one hell of an arrepa.

Happy Holidays. Don’t Give the Gift of Garbage.

Buying stuff for the holidays has to rank near the bottom of things I like doing.  Of course I get salty hearing other people’s conversations about rushing to the store after work, or struggling to find a toy that their kid wanted.  Even worse is seeing the huge piles of waste by the curbside a few days later.  I like to view the holidays more like artistic expression, mainly with how I package a gift, and secondarily what I choose.

This nation consumes a huge amount of paper each year, and as much as half of that consists of packaging.  Wrapping paper is a big contributor: it’s too thin to be recycled, and it contains additives and dyes.  Many things can substitute as wrapping paper…think newspaper, magazines, or really anything that you can mash together in a creative way.  Ideally, you should pick a material that is going to be recyclable or compostable.

I openly admit that I obsessively hoard packaging materials that only get utilized for holidays and birthdays.  Under my desk is three garbage bags full of padded mailers, styrofoam peanuts and gift bags that I’ve received and try to reuse later on.  By ordering products online, I don’t really get to choose what packaging material the sender uses, so it ends up under my desk.

I find it sad that nearly all packaging material is so close to being conveniently recyclable.  Padded mailers have plastic bubble liners that are difficult to remove, tyvek packaging is becoming popular, but no one is willing to pay shipping to mail these in bulk back to the manufacturer.  Some copy centers and post offices may accept styrofoam peanuts, but no one wants to make the effort to return them.  Therefore, I suggest reusing these types of materials as many times as you can.

Gift bags are equally frustrating because they’re not recyclable due to their inseparable composition of paper, plastic, and anything from sequins to rope handles and ribbons.  If you absolutely need to use gift bags for that special someone, choose a generic/neutral design and suggest to the recipient that they reuse it.

If you’re not that interested in using materials other than wrapping paper for gifts, you can look for 100% recycled paper gift wrap which uses soy-based ink instead of the usual toxic petroleum-based ink.  Taking it a step further, scour the internet for plantable seed wrapping paper.  You can even get business cards made with this material, and it looks and feels great.  These options are a bit more expensive, but I like to think of the extra cost as part of the final gift.

Being both creative and responsible with your gift giving doesn’t have to come off as cheap and weird.  Done right, it can act as a subtle way to get your recyclephobic friends one step closer to being accepting of greenie practices.  When you’re laying around digesting all that food this holiday season, strike up a conversation about holiday waste.  I think it’s on people’s minds but it doesn’t get enough attention, and it might connect you a little closer to those you care about.  Getting creative is always a good thing, and you know they always say it’s the green thought that counts.

Scavenging At School

Scavenging at School

I was taking a stroll and I happened to pass by a school’s dumpsters.  I couldn’t help but take a look at all the opportunity that was being passed on.  Don’t you think schools should be recycling, composting and donating as opposed to trashing?  I mean, the students are the future and all… setting an example and being a steward in the community shouldn’t be an option.

Who knows, maybe I’m really ahead of myself… maybe not a single person at the school has ever thought about waste segregation.  Maybe no one at this Philadelphia school lives in Philadelphia and recognizes that they participate in single stream recycling at home already.

Are the schools near you recycling? Composting? Donating excess supplies and lost and found never found? Are they getting the students involved?

I wonder what the waste hauler thought…maybe they never proposed providing the service anyway.  Either way, this isn’t about blame as much as it’s about looking through trash and asking questions…so take my lead and go do it.