How Single-Use Coffee Is Stimulating Our Disposable Society


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.

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.