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Reducing Product Waste

At the end of their usable life, our products must be recycled or disposed of in some way. Though lifecycle 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. 

K-Cup® Packs

As Keurig® Brewing Systems continue to grow in popularity, addressing the system’s environmental impact is a critical priority for us. Currently, our K-Cup® packs are not recyclable for a couple of reasons, which we are working to overcome. First, the plastic packaging must be separated from the lid and filter in order to empty the cup and then recycle the plastic. Since the filter is sealed to the cup, it makes separating the lid, filter, and cup difficult. Second, the filter material is a blend of natural fibers and plastic, which prevents it from being recycled conventionally

One of our targets for 2020 is to make 100% of K-Cup® packs recyclable. We are pursuing multiple avenues to achieve this target. 

One area we’re considering is the type of plastic we use. At this time, the plastic cups in the majority of our K-Cup® packs are made with layers of varying materials, which qualify them as #7 plastic. We are strongly considering converting more of these cups to #5 plastic — a material often used in common household items, such as yogurt and butter containers. Of the six 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. 

We’re also looking for ways to solve the problem of separating the lid, filter, and cup to make it easier for consumers to prepare those cups for recycling. We are also aware that some recycling facilities have difficulty sorting small items such as K-Cup® packs and, therefore, may not be able to recycle them. This varies by region and by facility and is often contingent on the equipment used to sort recycled materials at recycling facilities. So, to make sure that the products we design are not just recyclable in theory but will be able to be effectively recycled in community recycling programs, we are working with recyclers to understand the barriers and how we can develop solutions to address them. 

Beyond plastics, we are also researching other innovative possibilities such as biodegradable and/or compostable material that might be used successfully in a K-Cup® pack, and we are exploring biomimicry (a design discipline that looks to nature for inspiration to help solve tough design challenges).  

We are confident that we will meet our 2020 target and find solutions that allow K-Cup® packs to be recycled after use while still delivering the high-quality, great-tasting beverages that our consumers expect from us.

While we continue to work toward a 100% recyclable K-Cup® pack, we also offer programs for responsible disposal of the K-Cup® packs that are currently on the market. Our Grounds to Grow On™  program allows our workplace customers in the United States (e.g., those using our commercial Keurig® machines 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, which began in fiscal 2010 as a small-scale pilot, expanded in 2013 to include all of the United States, except Alaska and Hawaii. In fiscal 2013, the Grounds to Grow On™ program recovered an estimated 4.7 million used K-Cup® packs, composting 131,000 pounds of coffee grounds and saving an estimated 176 kilowatt hours. 

In 2013, we conducted an environmental impact study of our Grounds to Grow On™ program. We found that when we work with partners to convert the waste from K-Cup® packs into energy, there is a lower environmental impact than if we had recycled the plastic. The products we’ve identified to date that can be made from recycled K-Cup® pack waste would not displace virgin plastic, and those products made from K-Cup® packs have a high potential to end up in landfills at the end of their useful life. We are continuing to evaluate the benefits and impacts of the program so that we can provide the best possible solution to our customers. 

In Canada, we have established local programs in several cities in British Columbia and Ontario to help customers who use K-Cup® packs away from home to recycle their used K-Cup® packs. Customers who receive new K-Cup® packs through our coffee service programs in Kamloops, Toronto, and Vancouver can return used K-Cup® packs to their delivery driver for return to the distribution center. We then send those K-Cup® packs to local waste-to-energy facilities where they can be used as alternative fuel sources.

In fiscal 2013, we also sent K-Cup® packs from our Toronto plant that were rejected during the packaging process to a waste-to-energy facility. We introduced a similar program at our Montreal plant in early fiscal 2014. 

Other Single Serve Packs

We also offer our Vue® pack, which features a peel-away lid, filter paper, and base cup made from polypropylene #5 plastic. Polypropylene #5 plastic is accepted for recycling in over 60% of all communities in the United States. Customers can find communities that recycle #5 plastic by using the Earth911.com search engine through VueRecycling.com. For those areas without appropriate recycling infrastructure, we have partnered with the Gimme 5 Preserve program, which allows consumers to mail their brewed Vue® pack plastic cups to Preserve to be recycled.

In addition, consumers can purchase the My K-Cup® accessory, which has a reusable filter assembly that we designed to be easily cleaned, refilled, and placed into home Keurig® brewing systems.

Brewer Returns Program

We take steps to ensure our Keurig® brewers are manufactured to high-quality standards to minimize returned products and maximize their lifespan. In addition, through our Brewer Returns program, we work with various retail partners to take back any returned Keurig® brewers. The brewers are evaluated for functionality and are either refurbished for internal use (such as marketing demonstrations and in-store displays) or are sent to recycling companies to be disassembled. Our recycling partners have a zero waste-to-landfill policy and break down all components of the brewer and its packaging for reuse. All the recyclers we work with in the United States are certified by R2 Solutions. In fiscal 2013, we reused approximately 15,824 brewers for internal marketing purposes and recycled another 148,605 brewers for a total of 2,630,864 pounds of material diverted from landfills.