Reducing Product WasteInnovation is at the heart of everything we do. We are dedicated to innovation around our beverage systems — from new brands and product lines to more sustainable solutions. As Keurig® beverage systems continue to grow in popularity, addressing their environmental impact, while continuing to deliver extraordinary beverages, is a critical priority for us. Through our Vue®, K-Carafe™, and Bolt® packs, we are giving our customers and consumers greater flexibility and more recyclable options than ever before. However, our K-Cup® packs are not currently recyclable. We have committed to making 100% of K-Cup® packs recyclable by 2020.
Working Toward a
Recyclable K-Cup® Pack
We intend to move toward polypropylene #5 plastic for our K-Cup® packs. Polypropylene performs well in our brewing system, and the material is in high demand since it can be used for a wide variety of products.
Design for recyclability
In addition to using recyclable materials for the cup itself, we will make it easier for consumers to separate the components of our K-Cup® packs to prepare the plastic cup for recycling.
Community recycling programs
Not all recyclable materials can be conveniently recycled in all communities, so we're working toward a solution that will allow K-Cup® packs to be recycled in the majority of communities. We're also raising awareness with consumers to increase recycling rates and working with others to expand access to convenient recycling in more communities.
There are more than 500 recycling facilities in the United States, and the equipment they use is not standardized. To help K-Cup® packs consistently make it through the recycling process, we’re working with materials recyclers and other partners to gain a greater understanding of the challenges within the sorting process and to help develop solutions.
To help ensure that used K-Cup® packs are transformed into other useful consumer goods, we participate in organizations working to create demand for postconsumer recycled polypropylene. We’re also evaluating ways we can use this type of recycled material in our own products and encouraging our partners and suppliers to do the same.
To meet our 2020 target, we’re evaluating product development solutions and working with the recycling community and partners to ensure that our new K-Cup® pack design isn’t just recyclable in theory, but will also be able to be effectively recycled in the majority of community programs. This is a complex issue with many challenges, and we cannot address all of them on our own. For that reason, we are simultaneously pursuing multiple avenues to achieve our target:
- Product design: Designing a K-Cup® pack with materials that can be easily separated and readily recycled
- Recycling infrastructure: Collaborating with other companies, industry associations, and recyclers to overcome barriers to recycling and ensure that small plastic items with potential for reuse will successfully and consistently make it through the recycling stream
- End-market development: Encouraging long-term end-market demand for recycled material, which will create buyers for the material recyclers collect.
After thorough investigation and research of several designs, we are narrowing our options and conducting tests to find the recyclable solution that meets all the requirements of our brewing system — including a consistently high-quality beverage every time. In addition to designing a K-Cup® pack that can be easily separated by consumers, we intend to move toward polypropylene (#5) plastic for the cup itself — a material often used in common household items, such as yogurt and butter containers.
Of the commonly recyclable plastic resins, #5 performs the best in our brewing system. In addition, it’s a stable material with a good outlook for long-term demand in the recycling stream. It is also accepted by recyclers in approximately 60% of communities in the United States* and 93% of communities in Canada.** This means if we design an easily separable K-Cup® pack made from #5 plastic, we will have met our commitment to produce a solution that is recyclable in the majority of communities. However, we feel there is more we can do. That’s why we’re working with the recycling community and other partners to develop a more robust recycling infrastructure that accepts #5 plastics in even more communities and that can consistently capture small items,such as our portion packs.
Once we are confident we have designed a product that will meet all our requirements, we will also need to convert our packaging lines across eight manufacturing facilities in the United States and Canada. This conversion will not be a small task, but we are committed to overcoming the hurdles to meet our 2020 target.
Designing a recyclable K-Cup® pack is only part of the solution. Once our consumers use a portion pack, they must have access to a recycler that accepts the material it’s made from. This access varies greatly between communities in terms of how to recycle and what can be recycled. Then, the K-Cup® pack must successfully make it through the recycling and sorting process. There are more than 500 material recycling facilities in the United States alone, and the equipment those facilities use is not standardized. As a result, understanding exactly what happens to used K-Cup® packs can be challenging. We want to do what we can to ensure that they make it through the sorting process so that they can find another life.
We are working with recyclers to test K-Cup® packs in their recycling systems in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges that will need to be overcome for the recovery of small #5 plastic items. This will not only help us in our own product development process, but it will also increase our knowledge so we can help to bring about system wide transformations that will benefit us as well as other manufacturers facing similar challenges. We intend to share what we learn within industry forums that are promoting collective action in this area.
In fiscal 2014, we joined leaders from several consumer goods companies and retailers to invest in the Closed Loop Fund. The Fund helps to finance development of recycling infrastructure to ensure effective recycling of products and packaging and responsible use of food waste. The Fund plans to invest $100 million over five years in the form of low- and no-interest loans to help build comprehensive recycling programs. Keurig Green Mountain sits on the Fund’s Advisory Board as an initial investor, contributing $5 million over five years to the Fund. By collaborating with others through organizations such as the Closed Loop Fund, we do more than find solutions that work for our own products. We also contribute to solutions that benefit consumers and our industry more broadly and help more plastic to be consistently captured for recycling.
Recyclers are running a business. They collect items from homes and businesses for the purpose of selling the materials to those who want to reuse them. Increased demand strengthens the incentive for recyclers to find solutions that recover more used plastic for the marketplace. So it makes sense that the final piece of this puzzle is the development of a robust end-market for the material that K-Cup® packs are made from so they can be transformed into other useful consumer goods.
We belong to The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, which includes recyclers, brand owners, and plastics converters seeking to solve problems and understand issues related to plastics recycling. We are active participants in a subcommittee specifically focused on polypropylene market development. The subcommittee works to increase the availability and use of postconsumer recycled polypropylene — looking at supply and demand and identifying key issues, choke points, and gaps in the supply chain.
Our participation on this subcommittee allows us to work collaboratively with others toward more effective recycling solutions across industries. With wide participation across the value chain, the group has the ability to identify key information and actionable recommendations faster than any one entity on its own. We hope to create systemic change that benefits Keurig Green Mountain as well as other consumer goods companies, materials recyclers,and, ultimately, our customers and consumers.
Addressing other Product Waste
While we continue to work toward a 100% recyclable K-Cup® pack, we also offer programs for responsible disposal of K-Cup® packs in their existing format. In addition, customers can take advantage of our Brewer Returns program and recovery options for our recyclable portion packs, including our Vue®, K-Carafe™, and Bolt® packs. Though life-cycle analysis suggests that end-of-life is only a small share of the overall environmental impact of our products, this is an important stage of the value chain for us and for our consumers. With that in mind, we have developed a number of products and programs to help reduce end-of-life waste, and we will continue to explore solutions to meet our consumers’ interests and our own desire for more sustainable products.
Our Grounds to Grow On™ program allows our workplace customers in the United States (e.g., those using our commercial Keurig® brewers in their business and office settings) to collect used K-Cup® packs and return them to our disposal partner for composting and energy-from-waste processing. The program is available throughout the United States, except for Alaska and Hawaii. For more information see www.GroundsToGrowOn.com.
Our Vue® packs, K-Carafe™ packs, and Bolt® packs all feature a lid and filter paper that peels away from base cups made from polypropylene #5 plastic. For those areas in the United States without the appropriate recycling infrastructure, we have partnered with the Preserve Gimme 5 program, which allows customers to mail their brewed Vue® pack, Bolt® pack, and K-Carafe™ pack plastic cups to Preserve to be recycled. Customers can find out more on the Preserve Gimme 5 program and whether #5 plastic recycling is available in their areas at KeurigRecycling.com.
For more detailed information on all our efforts around Sustainable Products see our Fiscal 2014 Sustainability Report [LINK].
* Moore Recycling Associates, Plastic Recycling Collection: National Reach Study, May 2013.
** CM Consulting, Population Access to the Recycling of Post Consumer Plastic Packaging in Canada, May 2013.