Could Packaging Change Put an End to Disposable Coffee Pods Heading to Landfill?

Cheryl McMullen, Freelance writer

October 26, 2015

3 Min Read
Could Packaging Change Put an End to Disposable Coffee Pods Heading to Landfill?

It’s morning. Time to get moving. What do most of us reach for after the snooze button, but a nice, strong, hot cup of coffee? And if stagnant sales of traditional coffee makers are any indication, your cup of joe is increasingly coming from a single-serve counter-top coffee brewer that uses plastic pods.

In fact, the disposable cups are so popular, industry leading Keurig Green Mountain Inc. alone sold 9 billion of them last year, and posted approximately $1.4 billion in sales. The impact could be more that caffeine-addicted drivers on the loose. The non-recyclable plastic pods are tossed into the trash—enough, some say—if laid end to end to wrap around the planet more than 10 times. Enough, that even John Sylvan, who invented the tiny vessels, told The Atlantic in an interview, that he “feels bad sometimes” that he ever created them.

But Keurig is aware of environmental impact of its products and has said its goal is to make 100 percent of K-Cup packs recyclable by 2020. To meet that target, the company is evaluating product development solutions and working with the recycling community and partners to ensure the new K-Cup pack can effectively be recycled in the majority of community programs – a big step for the industry if the goal is met.

Yet Keurig is not the only fish in the ever-growing sea of reusable coffee pods. In fact, Canadian coffee roaster Club Coffee believes it has the answer to the growing waste concerns for the single-serve pods now. The company recently received the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) certification for its PῧrPod100, making it the first certified completely compostable single-serve pod for Keurig-style brewers. The certification was earned partly because of the pod's design, which uses plant-based resins and the coffee “chaff,” or the coffee bean skin left over from the roasting process.

According to Rhodes Yepsen, executive director of BPI, Club Coffee is the first manufacturer to earn BPI certification for single-serve pods. Diverting products associated with food residuals away from disposal is complicated, he said. BPI certification is a critical piece of the process, ensuring that items will break down in a timely manner in the appropriate composting environment, and not have a negative impact on the quality of the finished compost.

According to the Club Coffee, customers also share concerns about the waste they associate with traditional disposable pods. Through certification, the company feels it can dispel consumer concerns of producing more waste heading to landfill.

The BPI certification also confirms that the PῧrPod100 is industrially compostable, which means it fully breaks down in large-scale commercial composting processes. "Third-party certification is important because it validates that the PῧrPod100 breaks down in large-scale composting," said John Pigott, Club Coffee CEO in a press release. "Equally important, this external certification tells consumers that they can buy the right solution to the mounting problem of waste and its impact on the environment associated with single-serve formats. It also offers a solution for municipal governments who see a growing number of single-serve pods flooding their landfills."

Club Coffee continues to work with U.S. municipalities, composting manufacturers, well-known retailers and recognized food/coffee brands to provide consumers with access to both products using the PῧrPod100 technology as well as to composting channels. “We believe that compostable pods are the right choice for consumers to enjoy the quality and convenience of single-serve coffee and, at the same time, help protect our environment,” said Brian Kubicki, vice president of marketing, Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA. “Americans will have access to the first certified 100 percent compostable pods through our Hills Bros, Chock full o'Nuts and Kauai Coffee brands in the coming months.”

“Certification of 100 percent compostable pods cuts through confusing single-serve coffee product claims,” said Club Coffee's Pigott.  “In today's market, some pods claim to be partially biodegradable, while others tout some recyclability – but none of those claims are backed by independent third-party validation.” In contrast, BPI certification of PῧrPod100 provides consumers with clear evidence that the only convenient and proven solution is certified 100 percent compostable pods filled with the high-quality coffee, tea and hot beverages that they expect from single-serve.”

About the Author(s)

Cheryl McMullen

Freelance writer, Waste360

Cheryl McMullen is a freelance journalist from Akron, Ohio, covering solid waste collection and transfer for Waste360.

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