Why Sugar Might Be the Solution to All That K-Cup Waste
Last month, K-Cup inventor John Sylan made headlines when he said what plenty of environmentally conscious folks were already thinking: He wished he’d never invented the nonrecyclable coffee pods. Although the manufacturer of K-Cups, Keurig Green Mountain, has the goal of making the tiny plastic containers sustainable by 2020, that might be too little, too late. Just the pods sold in 2014 can encircle the globe at least 10.5 times. That astronomical amount of waste will only grow over the next five years as the number of people who roll out of bed thinking about the convenience of single-serve coffee—not plastic piling up in landfills or floating in the ocean—increases.
That’s where an innovative concept from Singapore-based designer Eason Chow could help. Chow has come up with the Droops Coffee Maker, which, like the Keurig, is a single-serve machine. Chow told FastCo.Design that most coffee machines “neglect the importance of their appearance and of social responsibility.” Instead of leaving behind a plastic container once a cup of joe is brewed, his Droops system uses pods that disappear completely.
With Chow’s system, powdered coffee is coated with a candy-like shell made out of sugar. The sweetened pods can be inserted in a Droops machine, just like a K-Cup can be put in a Keurig device. But once hot water is poured over the Droops pod, the hardened sweetener dissolves—no pod made out of unrecyclable plastic No. 7 (which may contain BPA) to throw in the garbage.
There are some potential downsides to the Droops pod. Although most people add some sort of sweetener to their java, not everyone likes the taste or health effects of a few added teaspoons of sugar. However, Chow has designed pods with varying levels of shell thickness—the thinner a pod’s shell, the less sugar it contains.
The Droops pod, which is still a prototype, isn’t compatible with Keurig machines. Sylan told The Atlantic that Keurig Green Mountain wouldn’t listen to his ideas about how to make K-Cups sustainable. But perhaps the public outcry from the “Kill the K-Cup” movement over the environmental disaster the plastic containers are creating will inspire Keurig to take an idea like Chow’s seriously. In the meantime, making a cup of java the old-school way is always an option.