How Single-Use Coffee Is Stimulating Our Disposable Society

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All companies want to find some way to force you to constantly have to purchase their products or services – that’s how they make their money.

That is exactly what the coffee industry has done – putting our environment at risk in the process.

With the introduction of individual single-use coffee machines, such as Keurig’s K-Cup, or Tassimo’s T-Discs, now you can brew a personalized cup for each member of your household. Just pop in one of their disposable single-use coffees, brew your cup, and toss it in the trash.

This is great for the coffee industry, as it forces consumers to constantly re-order the specific single-use disposable coffees for their specific machine.

The problem is, these single-use disposable coffee cups and discs are hard to recycle, and for the most part, end up just getting tossed in the trash. This is in stark contrast to drip coffee or espresso machines that allow you to sustainably dispose of your coffee grinds after your cup is made. Coffeeness shares some eco-friendly options if you’re looking for a home espresso machine.

About 5 billion K-Cups went to landfill in 2011 – that’s a lot of wasteful packaging just to wake up in the morning. An estimated 11 billion K-Cups may have entered our garbage dumps, since the product was launched in 1998.

K-Cups, T-Discs and other similar products contain a non-recyclable plastic cup, a non-recyclable foil top, a filter which may be recyclable depending on your location, and coffee which can be composted after use – provided you don’t mind fishing through the pile of used K-Cups and emptying out each one yourself.

Keurig did come up with a solution to their wasteful machine, called the Vue System. The Vue cup is made from recyclable plastics. However, you have to remove the foil and the coffee – the foil can’t go anywhere but your trash, and the coffee must be removed for the plastics to be recycled.

However, most still toss their single-use coffee cups and discs in the trash. The whole mentality of the product is single-use equals disposable. It’s probably the most recent product to date to encourage our disposable society, despite the trends towards green products which are less harmful to our environment.

The My K-Cup is an alternative, it’s a re-useable K-Cup, allowing you to purchase your own beans, and  re-use the same filter indefinitely.

Keurig's "My K-Cup"
Keurig’s “My K-Cup”

Great idea, but it was flawed from the start. The single-use coffee market was created with one intention in mind: to create a constant consumer need to purchase disposable coffee cups and discs. The marketing speaks to that. The greener alternative – the My K-Cup – is advertised as a product allowing you to choose your own coffee, instead of having one of their pre-packaged brands.

This is very intentional, as the key value proposition for most single-use coffee customers is the ability to simply select their preferred brand, pop in the cup or disc, and within minutes have a hot steaming beverage without the hassle of fiddling with beans and filters. That’s why most of the major coffee brands in the world have hopped into the single-use coffee market. They want repeat business too.

Coffee is one of most traded commodities in the world. Americans spend on average about $18 billion annually just on speciality coffee.

On average, American coffee drinkers spend about $165 per year on coffee. It doesn’t hurt that coffee contains one of the most addictive legalized drugs – caffeine – either – which forces about 60 percent of coffee drinkers to crave a cup of their morning brew upon waking up.

The My K-Cups don’t cater to the ease of use which the non-re-useable single-use coffee cups do – which again is intentional. You have to use your own beans, and repeatedly wash out the filter and it’s parts.

Taking something that is highly addictive, and making it so simple, quick and easy to make, and just toss away is obviously going to outsell anything that requires slightly more effort.

Which is why the whole single-use coffee market, despite their introduction of some re-usable and some recyclable products, are encouraging and fostering a disposable society to constantly drive customers to their doorsteps.

So just say no to single-use coffee machines.

9 thoughts on “How Single-Use Coffee Is Stimulating Our Disposable Society”

  1. It is evident, everyone has their own way of doing things. And if they think it is much easier to go to the prepackaged K cup, so be it. But, they are also paying through the nose for it. I had Keurig, and I used mesh wired little K cups, and put my own coffee in it, and was completely happy with it.

  2. I LOVE my single cup machine with the re-usable filter. I CONSERVE water too. I don’t make a whole pot and waste water as I won’t drink that much. Kids want hot chocolate? Ok, run the water through with no filter or coffee. The machines are not at fault here. It is up to the consumer to speak up and do what is best for them and the environment.

    • Do you have any idea the amount of water use to make every cup you use? Much more than what you save. Wouldn’t be just easier to make less coffee each time with your old machine? And since when the consumer did what is best for environment?

      • With a coffee pot you are supposed to always make at least HALF a pot. (at least that is what the book with it said). So, yes.. I am aware of how much LESS water and coffee grounds I am using per cup instead of making a pot (or half) of coffee.

        EVERY person is a consumer so I would say that there are a lot of us trying to do what is best for the environment.

        • I’m pretty sure you can do less coffee with your machine, even if the book says no. And if it doesn’t work, you can always buy a machine that does make less.

          If you like capsule because they are easy to use, fine. But stops thinking you are greener with them, because you are not. The problem is that you don’t calculate all the water and energy needed to produce the plastic and aluminum of your capsules.

  3. I have the Keurig I love that we no longer wasted coffee and water, I used it for my tea and my roommate loves her coffee and my mom hot chocolate. We do use the reusable filters have been gifted some of the K cups and friends will use those, I do recycle though, I am a crafter and the little cups can be used in many ways. All coffee grounds and tea leaves go in my garden or in the compost.

  4. I have a black and decker one cup coffee maker. I give the filter a quick rinse, put in coffee and water, put cup underneath and punch a button. Come back a few minutes later and coffee is ready. Put used coffee in sieve for garden. No waste, cheaper coffee ( any brand, flavor), and machine only cost 20 something dollars. Predates keurig, hope they didn’t run it out of business.


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