The short answer: not always, but generally yes. Today, Keurig is working toward making all of its pods recyclable by converting all K-Cups to #5 plastic (aka polypropylene), which is commonly able to be recycled in communities across the U.S. and Canada.
As sales of K-Cups have skyrocketed to a whopping 9 billion pods per year, the environmental impact of disposable single serve coffee pods has grown too. These days, the number of K-Cups sent to a landfill in a single year could wrap around the Earth more than 10 times.
That's a staggering amount of waste, especially when you consider that landfilled plastic doesn't degrade for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. This leads to serious environmental impacts, which we'll address below.
Let's take a closer look at what K-Cups are made of, why recycling matters, and how to go about recycling the ubiquitous Keurig pods.
What K-Cups Are Made Of
Single-serving K-Cups consist of several parts, including aluminum foil lids, a filter made from a blend of fiber and plastic, and an exterior that's made from either #7 or #5 plastic. The exact details of what goes into the plastic and fiber blends are considered proprietary, so Keurig does not disclose that information.
It used to be that all K-Cups were made from #7 plastic, which is rarely recycled at the municipal level. This is why K-Cup recycling was virtually impossible for many years.
However, as mentioned, Keurig is working toward making all of its single serve pods recyclable. They are in the process of converting more than 100 manufacturing lines to recyclable K-Cups, with the goal of 100 percent recyclable K-Cup pods in Canada by 2018 and 100 percent recyclable K-Cup pods in the U.S. by 2020.
Recycling is a necessary part of sustaining a livable planet. When items such as K-Cups end up in the trash, they're destined for landfills across the country where they do not decompose for hundreds or thousands of years and contribute to a wide range of environmental issues. These include production of greenhouse gases (which are primary contributors to climate change), destruction of wildlife habitat, the fracturing of ecosystems, and pollution of air, land, and water.
Recycling helps keep products out of the waste stream, thereby reducing the need for environmentally destructive landfills. It also minimizes the use of raw materials, thus limiting the strain on natural resources. A robust recycling industry also creates jobs. For these reasons and more, it's important for businesses to recycle K-Cups and other materials whenever possible.
K-Cup Recycling Options
If your local recycling facility doesn't accept the plastic in question, you have several alternative options for K-Cup recycling, including:
Locate a recycling facility that will accept the single serve pods. Start a collection box for used pods, and then drop them off at the facility as time allows. You can locate recycling facilities via the “Where to Recycle” function at Earth911.
Take part in Keurig's Grounds to Grow On program. The program enables North American businesses to ship their used pods to Keurig, which then sends the pods to “disposal partners” who turn the grounds into compost and use the pods in energy-from-waste programs. Learn more here.
Use a Recycle A Cup cutter. These cutters allow you to separate the plastic part of the pod from the filter and coffee grounds, thereby increasing the odds that these components will decompose in the landfill or compost. While it's not a perfect solution, it does slightly mitigate the environmental impact of the pods. You may also be able to ship a collection of used single serve pods directly to Recycle A Cup so they can properly dispose of them on your behalf. Find more info here.
Research alternative take-back programs. Preserve's Gimme 5 campaign, for example, encourages people and businesses to mail in #5 plastics, which are repurposed as toothbrushes and razors. Learn more here.
It may take a little effort, but finding ways to dispose of your company's K-Cups in an environmentally mindful way is important. By recycling K-Cups via any means possible, your business will help protect the environment we all rely on.
Laura Newcomer is a writer, editor, and educator with multiple years of experience working in the environmental and personal wellness space. Formerly Senior Editor at the health site Greatist, Laura now lives and works in Pennsylvania. Her writing has been published on Washington Post, TIME Healthland, Greatist, DailyBurn, Lifehacker, and Business Insider, among others. She has taught environmental education to students of all ages in both Pennsylvania and Maine, and prioritizes living an environmentally sustainable lifestyle. She's a big proponent of creating self-sustaining communities and accessible healthy food systems that care for both people and the earth. An avid outdoorswoman, she can often be found hiking, kayaking, backpacking, and tending to her garden.