A Canadian coffee company says it has developed a more environmentally friendly alternative to the ever-popular, single-serve K-Cup pods, made a household name in recent years by the ubiquitous Keurig home coffeemakers.
Canterbury Coffee Corp., a specialty coffee roaster based in Richmond, BC, told Waste & Recycling News (WRN) that its new OneCoffee pod is compostable and biodegradable, made with 40 percent less plastic (it doesn't have a hard shell like traditional K-Cups) and the support structure for its hard plastic ring will compost in an anaerobic environment.
Canterbury launched the new cups with its new organic, fair trade, single-serve coffee, branded OneCoffee. The pods are then packaged in a paperboard box with zero-carbon offsets, senior marketing manager Derek Perkins told WRN.
The OneCoffee cup is made of PLA-based resin from DaniMer Scientific LLC. The resin itself meets ASTM degradability standards and is "OK-compost" certified. According to Canterbury, the cup's entire structure is about 92 percent biodegradable. The only exception is the filter, made with a nylon weave to withstand the brewing process.
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Perkins said the company is looking for substitutes for the nylon filter mesh — perhaps with a biodegradable nylon alternative such as polyethylene furanoate — and the plastic aromatic overwrap that seals the cups, which would make the OneCoffee cup 98 percent biodegradable.
In the last year, single-cup brewers have exploded in popularity. About 13 percent of Americans drink coffee made in a single-cup brewer, up from 4 percent in 2010, according to data from the National Coffee Association. About 12 percent of Americans own a single-cup brewer, according to the same study.
Despite their growing popularity, K-Cups struggle with sustainability. Traditional K-cups are made from a combination of plastic, paper, metal and organic material (coffee or tea), so they are not recyclable in a typical waste stream. There are "literally billions of traditional K-Cups in landfills already," Perkins said.
But Keurig, a subsidiary of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc., has made efforts to mitigate claims of unsustainability: In 2011, the company started a pilot-scale take-back program for corporate customers, where coffee grounds were sent to a compost facility and the rest of the materials incinerated in a waste-to-energy plant. The company also sells a refillable K-Cup filter.
Meanwhile, Canturbury’s OneCoffee cups will break down in an industrial composter or in a regular landfill environment, but they are not suitable for home composting since the filter is not presently biodegradable.
OneCoffee launched in Canada earlier this month. The pods aren't currently available in the U.S., but the product does meet the strict requirements of the FTC’s "Green Guides," according to Perkins.
Some of the world's largest coffee companies have made strides to increase the social sustainability of their business in recent weeks: Earlier this month, Mondelez International unveiled a new training facility to promote sustainability and entrepreneurship for Vietnamese coffee farmers, as part of its commitment to investing at least $200 million to help one million coffee farming entrepreneurs by 2020. And a recent independent study by the Colombian organization CRECE, which assessed the social, environmental and economic impacts among 1,000 farmers, has found that farmers in Nespresso's AAA Sustainable Quality Program have a net income 87.4 percent higher than those not involved with the program.