Green Mountain Coffee's 'green' problem

A deal with TerraCyle may help solve it.

By Jonathan Berr Feb 13, 2012 12:51PM
Image: Coffee (© HD Connelly/Getty Images/Getty Images)Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' (GMCR) K-Cup coffee-brewing system is simple to use and creates a delicious cup of coffee. The downside to the popular single-use product is that it can't be recycled and people in the landfill business are fuming. But a solution may be in the works.

The company is in talks with TerraCycle about developing a program that would enable consumers to redeem used K-Cups for 2 cents each to raise money for nonprofits. 

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TerraCycle has similar deals with K-Cup rivals that use comparable technologies, such as Tassimo Tea-Discs and Flavia Fresh Packs. The recycling company has figured out how to reuse the material for new products, according to Albie Zakes, a TerraCycle spokesman.

"We would love to strike a deal with them," Zakes says of Green Mountain. A Green Mountain company spokeswoman could not be reached.

A deal with TerraCycle would be a step in the right direction but would not entirely solve the K-Cup problem. The plastic cups are an engineering marvel. They are topped with aluminum foil and lined with a heat-sealed paper filter so that a user gets a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Separately, these materials can be recycled, but when combined together in a small format, they are difficult to break down and reuse.

"The speed of the conveyor is going to be very difficult to find a small item like that, to sort that material," Jose Ysea, with San Diego County Waste Management, said in an interview with a California TV station.

Even people who hate Green Mountain's products should root for a recyclable K-Cup. Solid waste is one of the biggest expenses of cash-strapped local governments. The cost for disposing of tens of millions of K-Cups is starting to add up. For now, landfill operators are just grumbling about it to the media, but the message is clear to Green Mountain: Figure out a solution sooner rather than later. Government officials will be only too glad to attribute a need for higher taxes to a problem like K-Cups rather than to their own wasteful spending.

Green Mountain says it's committed to making K-Cups more environmentally friendly. Reusable K-Cups are available, but I found them to be a hassle.

"We have not publicly specified a timeline for a change to the K-Cup pack," Sandy Yusen, a spokeswoman for Green Mountain, wrote in an email. "This is a top priority for us, and we are working aggressively to address the environmental impact of the Keurig brewing system. . . . We continue to experiment with different types of renewable and recyclable materials, looking for possibilities that could meet the heat and pressure requirements of the Keurig system."

All this research isn't cheap. In the 13 weeks ended Dec. 24, 2011, selling and operating expenses at Green Mountain rose more than 80% to $141.4 million. While it's true that net sales more than doubled during that time, revenue growth will eventually slow. And until Green Mountain solves its packaging problem, expenses will not.
Jonathan Berr loves his K-Cup machine with a blinding passion exceeded only by his feelings for his iPad. He doesn't own any shares listed here.

Tags: GMCR
I love the convenience of my Keurig, but the cups are too expensive to keep buying.  I have the reusable cup, but if I am going to go through the hassle of getting out the grounds and measuring a cup then I might as well use the coffee pot and brew up several.  I would like to see grounds sold in small, paper-filter pods that would fit inside the reusable cup (kind of like a tea bag).  Then they could be composted, and would come out of the cup without a mess.  Win-win for everyone :)
Feb 13, 2012 7:14PM

BEER is a better option, much greener, toss the bottle into your glass recycle bin for future reuse ! Easy to clean out of the back of your pickup truck and they don't blow out onto the highway like coffee cups/lids.

Feb 13, 2012 4:53PM
There is a solution...Keurig sells it's own filter container that you can use with whatever coffee you want.  It's great for people who love the convenience of the single cup at a time but want stronger coffee.  I love mine!  I hate drinking coffee that has been sitting in a pot for a half hour.  Besides, one cup usually is only what I need!
Feb 13, 2012 5:12PM
I purchased the Kuerig filter and use my own coffee.  It's much less expensive and I can buy all the flavored coffee I want.  It has more than paid for it's $17.95 cost.
Feb 13, 2012 7:05PM

You can buy an additional insert that replaces the K-cup holder and use your own kind of grinds.....

So for those of you who want to save money but still want to use your Keurig machine, this insert would be your answer.

I bought mine at BedBathandBeyond.   Not expansive at all and it works just fine.


Feb 13, 2012 5:22PM
If you plant seedlings - they're great for repurposing in that manner. Right size, hole already in the bottom, self contained.
Feb 13, 2012 6:20PM
We use the Keurig machine but my husband got a replacement cup that i fill with any kind of coffee, the k-cups weren't cost cost efficient when we would use up to 6 of them per day.
Feb 13, 2012 7:44PM
The article stated the real problem......politicians raising taxes and blaming it on K-cup waste, when the real problem is their wasteful spending. That should be the headline; not buried in paragraph seven! Mark my words. We will see a deposit on K-cups, just like soda cans. The politicians make millions on unclaimed can and bottle deposits. Here is a new oportunity for them to screw us. Just watch.............
Feb 13, 2012 5:47PM
I love my Keurig!!  And Green Mountain coffee too.  For years, the complaints about landfills were disposable diapers.  Well, when I had my kids, it was cloth diapers, so dangit all, I'm gonna enjoy my K-cups!
Feb 13, 2012 4:53PM

For the people that are concerned about recycling the k-cups, or the ones that think they "taste bad".... They sell a filter that you place inside the Keurig Brewer that allows you to use the coffee of your choice, without spending the ridiculous amount for the K-cups. I like my brewer because it IS convenient and also cheap since i use my own coffee!

Feb 13, 2012 8:06PM

To play devil's advocate on Laura's comment: if you aren't a big coffee drinker or your house likes different flavors, you're probably pouring out 1/4 - 1/2 of the coffee you're making and wasting your money anyway. I'm sure you waste money on things many of us find equally unnecessary.

Feb 13, 2012 6:46PM
I'll just continue to throw them in the trash along with the mercury containing squiggly light bulbs that they're forcing us to use. I firmly believe in advancing the cause of unintended consequences to the fullest degree.
Feb 13, 2012 6:11PM
I have found that most "Green" products are either more wasteful, or flat do not work. While "Green" is a good idea, the people on both sides of the fence want to jump right in the pool and forget the water. One side is $$$$$$ and the other have no clue how things work and so they create more waste.

Urban Cowboy: You came up with a good idea, use convicts to separate the trash at the landfills. 5-10 years of that will make you think about committing another crime.

I like the k-cup. It saves me money from going to Dunkin Donuts.  It is convenient.  A fad, I think not.  It will not go away unless somebody else comes up with something else.
Feb 13, 2012 6:58PM
They now make reusable K-cups that can be filled with any coffee you would like, it is called Eko-brew.  They also make a metal disc that can go over they plastic cup to turn them into a reusable cup as well and be filled with whatever coffee you like.  Either way you still get the convenience and the supposedly good taste plus you get to choose your coffee and the bonus of not wasting all those K-cups.
Feb 13, 2012 4:53PM
Hahahahaha!!! People in the landfill business don't get upset over more waste! They get more money with more waste! The author of this piece obviously doesn't have a clue. Filling up a landfill with K-cups? What a joke. Find something else to write about Mr. Berr.
Feb 13, 2012 6:43PM
Stop with recycling rant already, enough! Just grind the little boogers up into confetti along with the baby diapers and be done with the landfill issues. I truly believe that all this hype is for  tree huggers and the environmental whack jobs who look for ways to create controversy. I like my K Cups and coffee discs, so get on to something else like those pieces of large truck tires I run over on the interstate left by those inconsiderate mother truckers
Feb 13, 2012 5:12PM
Buy the reusable K-Cups and ditch Green Mountain all together. Now you can fresh grind the coffee of your choosing, which you bought in bulk to save money. Little waste, little carbon footprint. Done.

Think people, think...

Better yet? Buy a French Press and enjoy a better tasting cup of coffee with much less waste.
Feb 13, 2012 5:31PM

One could say that breathing was a fad, for you that scream at fads, please stop breathing.

Everyone has different tastes, single cup brewers will be improved on, they are here to stay.

Just as percolators have pretty much gone the way of the dodo, so will inefficient things such as coffee pots. We live in a disposable culture, they best thing to do is find a better way to use the things that make life convenient.

It is not lazy to want and use conveniences. Stop being preachy, no one will listen anyway.

I like my Keurig, I can stock decaf when certain relatives visit and not have to throw away a pound of coffee I will never drink. Same goes with flavored coffees, teas, or whatever else I am in the mood for.

Feb 13, 2012 4:41PM
That's what they say about ALL convenient things that the public seems to love. "The internet is just a fad.".........yep
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