Can You Actually Recycle Keurig Cups? The Answer Is More Complicated Than You Think

·2 min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images


"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through the links below."

Environmental advocates have long criticized coffee pods for their wasteful packaging. If you regularly use a single-serve coffee machine, you've likely amassed a significant pile of used capsules that ended up in a landfill.

Multiply your used pods by the 16 million U.S. households that have single-serve coffee brewers, and that's a lot of plastic waste. That's why, in 2017, after years of public pushback, Keurig committed to making their coffee pods recyclable by 2020.

But when 2020 rolled around and Keurig announced new recyclable packaging for their pods, there was a big caveat. In the fine print, Keurig instructed us to check our local rules since not every recycling center will accept the capsules.

The main change is that the packaging is now made from plastic #5 instead of the non-recyclable plastic #7. As Keurig claims on their website, "We chose polypropylene (#5 plastic) because it is widely accepted for curbside recycling in a majority of communities across North America and there is growing demand for it as a recycled material."

But in reality, that isn't exactly true. Polypropylene was generally accepted and exported to recycling centers in China until 2018, when the nation tightened their restrictions on the types of plastics they accept. Now, research indicates that only about 3% of plastic #5 actually ends up being recycled.

Furthermore, even if your recycling center accepts polypropylene, you still need to jump through several hoops to do prepare the capsules. For K-Cups, you need to remove and dispose of the foil lid, then compost (or throw away) the interior filter and coffee grounds before the pod can go in the recycling bin. If your K-Cup is still contaminated with coffee by the time it reaches the sorting machine, it'll likely end up in the trash.

Keurig's commitments to sustainability are misleading at best, and dishonest corporate greenwashing at worst. Saying their products are "recyclable" does not necessarily mean the wasteful packaging is environmentally friendly. And as the New York Times' Wirecutter website reported last year, "Recent research (PDF) conducted by a UK-based coffee brand found that, of the 39,000 capsules produced worldwide every minute, 29,000 of them end up in landfills."

Some recycling companies do offer programs that allow you to send in your uncleaned coffee pods, but they come at a steep price. TerraCycle, for example, sells a small 7.5-inch by 10-inch mailer to send in your capsules for $41.

If you love the convenience of a single-serve coffee maker but want a more sustainable option, look for reusable filters that you can fill with ground coffee. Over time, they are a lot less expensive than buying pre-packaged coffee pods.

You Might Also Like