Monday, January 14, 2008

Green Mountain Coffee is Generating More Trash

Green Mountain Coffee has fallen to the "convenience" myth and is now putting its organic, fair-trade coffees into small plastic "K=cups" so people don't have to worry about smelly filters and whose turn it is to make the coffee.

These are coffees with names like Paul Newman's Own and Heifer, which really hurts, since Heifer is trying to eliminate hunger sustainably ("Ending Hunger, Caring for the World.")

They package coffee, tea and chocolate in these non-biodegradable cups at a time where people are learning to buy unbleached coffee filters and carry their own shopping bags with them instead of using the store's plastic bags.

All this plastic ends either in landfills or in waterways, where it gets in fish's bellies. They use petroleum to create the plastic - petroleum that now costs $100 barrel, because there's not enough of it to go around (thank goodness) and which produces CO2 and other nasties in its refining and production.

What's wrong with using unbleached filters of 100% postconsumer paper? Because it's brown? Which is what it gets to be anyway afterwards.
Why is tea packaged in plastic anyway - or even in teabags? It's very easy to make a cup or pot of tea with a tea steeper, like this one from Adagio Teas.

This is the same problem that I have discussed earlier with "sustainable" Clif's Bars using non-biodegradable plastic candy wrappers. If you want to market a sustainable product, the product has to be 100% sustainable!

I will now contact Heifer, Newman's Own and Green Mountain and ask them to reconsider. You can do that, too, by clicking those links.


Michael Dupee said...

Packaging is an area of major environmental concern for all consumer product companies. As the single-cup coffee market and our Keurig brewing systems grow in popularity, we understand that the impact of the K-Cup waste stream is one of our most significant environmental challenges. Finding a better approach is a big priority for us. We are working on a few different fronts to improve the environmental characteristics of the K-Cup system, as well as to mitigate its impact.

Here’s what we’re doing:

First, we are actively researching alternatives to the petroleum-based materials that make up the K-Cup. We are continually looking for ways to improve all of our coffee packaging, while still maintaining the freshness and quality that consumers have come to expect from us. We have made some strides in this area. Our hot and cold beverage cups are made from fully renewable materials. And our new 10 and 12 ounce bags of coffee are made with 19% PLA – a bio-plastic sourced from sugar.

Second, we are exploring the use of Life-Cycle Analysis to help us quantitatively understand the environmental impact of the K-Cup. Waste at the end of a process is an important factor in understanding the environmental impact of a product, but impact occurs throughout a product’s life. By studying the full impact of K-Cup packaging, we can more clearly understand how and where we can take concrete steps to reduce its impact.

Third, we are introducing more Fair Trade Certified® coffees into our K-Cup line. We believe that’s good for Fair Trade. Because the K-Cup market is growing quickly, having Fair Trade Certified® coffees in K-Cups exposes more people to great Fair Trade Certified® coffees and helps grow the Fair Trade system. K-Cups also help increase awareness of the missions of our valued partners like Heifer International and Newman’s Own Organics.

Finally, we offer “My K-Cup,” a reusable K-Cup that can be filled by the consumer, is easily cleaned, and is compatible with all Keurig home brewers sold today.

I encourage you to review our new Corporate Social Responsibility webpage ( to learn more about all of our programs and products and our efforts to bring new, more sustainable solutions to the market.


Michael Dupee
Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility

bonbayel said...

This is a much more encouraging reply than theone I received from Clif's Bars (which are still very much packaged in non-biodegradable plastic.)

But I don't understand how a company like Green Mountain could even consider introducing the K-Cup without first doing the Life-Cycle analysis.

I sort of understand the crooked reasoning about getting Fair Trade coffee out where the materialist consumers who use K-cups will try them, but it doesn't tell their story correctly, packaging good coffee in trash!

One of the people who wrote in a comment about the Heifer K-cup said that it even tasted really bad compared with the same coffee made the right way, without getting plastic tastes into it.

We have to think before we introduce new products, people, and start cleaning out the mess we've already got!

bonbayel said...

I received this email from Customer Service:

Good Morning,

Thanks for your inquiry regarding K-cup recycling. At this time, they are not recyclable. Because as a company GMCR is very concerned with the environmental impact of all our products and practices, we have signed an agreement with one of our materials suppliers to jointly fund research on the application of renewable materials for the K-Cup. One option may be to develop a brewing system that uses a photo biodegradable K-Cup with a non-metalized lid. We'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, at or you can purchase a 'My K-Cup' that serves as a re-usable gold filter for the Keurig brewer.

Have a great day
Online Customer Care Representative
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters®

(If you already use K-cups, I urge you to get the "My K-Cup" and save lots of money as well using the regular bags of organic and Free Trade coffee! - B)

bonbayel said...

I was just researching K-cups a little more, and came across coffee pods, which make much more environmental sense, if you have to have individual servings. I found this description of pods on an Amazon page selling them:

What is a pod? A pod is a measured portion of ground coffee or espresso, compressed between two biodegradable filter paper sheets. By using a coffee or espresso maker specifically designed for use with pods, the pod allows anyone to make an excellent cup of coffee or espresso in no time. Pods are easy to use, convenient and mess free, providing a consistently delicious freshly brewed cup of coffee. A breakthrough in quality single-cup coffee! ...pods work with a variety of single-cup brewers for maximum flexibility. Convenience, choice and a gourmet selection! ... Each ... pod is individually wrapped to ensure maximum freshness. Pods maintain their shape for perfect brewing and stay fresh for up to 15 months!

bonbayel said...

I found an interesting link about this topic at
The Coffee Detective where he loves the ease of the K-cups (but not the expense) and that you can buy organic coffee in K-cups from Green Mountain, but he does have a bit of a bad conscience, and suggests using the personal K-cup.

he said she said...

I love how the Online Customer Care Representative at Green Mountain encouraged you toward "using the regular bags of organic and Free Trade coffee!" Green Mountain's own representatives aren't even educated about their product! Fair Trade is the antithesis of Free Trade, a common slip that no one who is authentically involved in the Fair Trade movement would make.

Two years later and K-Cups are even more pervasive and still short on waste-reduction. And few people have even commented on the vast number of special brewers being produced to brew the billions of K-Cups. Standard home coffee makers and flooding thrift store shelves and curbside trash heaps. What of the ripple-effect of this convenience trend!?!?

Erik Iverson
Sales Manager for a 100% Fair Trade, Organic Coffee Roaster

bonbayel said...

"K Cups for your Keurig Brewer. Enjoy wide selection of k cups coffee & tea including our signature fair trade coffees. Save with Café EXPRESS on every K Cup box." This is the message GMC is selling itself with on it's home page.

I just discovered this item: "Keurig, Incorporated, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ: GMCR), is a single cup brewing pioneer in North America." from PFD announcement about Keurig/GMC

Anonymous said...

I bought the Keurig, but use my own coffe and use the my k cup. I wanted the fresh taste, but could not stand how much waste the k cups put into our landfills. After about 8 months my keurig stopped working, I called customer service and they where awesome and said they would send another machine out right away. I asked if I should send back the broken one, and their response was "no just throw it away" WHAT! don't you recycle these machines? "No we find it cheaper to just have the consumer toss them". That is unacceptable to me. Any ideas what I could do to recycle the coffee maker?