Recycling Company Takes on K-Cups

A pile of boxes of K-Cup coffee capsules. (Travis Estell/Flickr)
A pile of boxes of K-Cup coffee capsules. (Travis Estell/Flickr)

They have become the cigarette butt of the coffee market — at least from a recycling perspective.

The small, airtight plastic coffee brewing capsules, best known by the brand name K-Cup, have become ubiquitous in home and office kitchens, replacing coffee pots by offering fast, clean, single-serve brews with a variety of flavors.

There’s just one problem — the coffee capsules are tough to recycle. And with industry-leader Keurig Green Mountain estimating it sold 9.8 billion K-Cup portion packs last year, that has sparked environmental concerns. There’s even a Kill the K-Cup video.

Enter Trenton-based TerraCycle, a company known for taking on recycling challenges. They launched the world’s first cigarette butt recycling program in 2012 and have now turned their attention to coffee capsules.

TerraCycle has already recycled 2,481 pounds of the cups through its “Zero Waste Box” program. The process, however, is costly since the cups are made using plastic #7, which is the most difficult and costly to recycle.

“A lot of us were like, ‘no one is ever going to pay to do this,’” said Rhandi Goodman, who runs Zero Waste Box. “People started purchasing them and the orders just started coming in.”