Hi all -
A few weeks back, Ken posted on this blog, asking readers to submit ideas on what the next K-Cup should be. That post has been far and away our most popular, with over 600 comments to date and some very interesting and original suggestions.
A few days ago, however, a reader named Roger posted a different kind of comment. Roger wanted to know why we aren't using compostable K-Cups. He mentioned that Ben & Jerry's is currently using compostable containers for their pints so why aren't we doing the same with our K-Cups?
Great question, Roger, and thanks for posing it.
The answer is in the technical details relating to how the Keurig system delivers such great coffee. When you roast and package coffee, elements like oxygen, moisture, and light are enemies of freshness - when the coffee is exposed to any of them, it will decrease the quality and shelf life of the product. Additionally, when you use your package as a brewing vessel, the package needs to withstand a fairly high amount of heat. As a result, the package itself (the K-Cup) has to be impervious to the exact elements that are at work (heat, moisture, air, light) when you compost waste effectively. Without this packaging, all the resources and effort put into growing and roasting great coffee would be wasted - and that would also be a serious environmental impact.
That still leaves us with the question of what we are doing to work on the issue of the environmental impact of the K-Cup though. Packaging is an area of major environmental concern for all consumer product companies. As the single-cup coffee market and our Keurig brewing systems grow in popularity, we understand that the impact of the K-Cup® waste stream is one of our most significant environmental challenges.
Finding a more environmentally-friendly approach to this packaging challenge is a big priority for us. We are working on a few different fronts to improve the environmental characteristics of the K-Cup system, as well as to mitigate its impact.
Here's what we're doing:
First, we are working to identify the right end goal for the K-Cup. The term “environmentally-friendly” or “sustainable” means different things to different people; it could mean carbon-neutral, made with renewable materials only, recyclable, biodegradable, compostable, petroleum-free, etc. We are researching all these avenues, trying to understand what is possible today and tomorrow, taking into account the current state of packaging technology, consumer preferences, community infrastructure, performance requirements, and the demands of the marketplace.
Second, we have commissioned Life-Cycle Analysis to help us quantitatively understand the environmental impact of the K-Cup. Waste at the end of a process is an important factor in understanding the environmental impact of a product, but impact occurs throughout a product’s life. We want to understand the full impact of K-Cup packaging so we can more clearly understand its real benefits as well as where we can take concrete steps to reduce its impact.
Third, we are continuing to invest in both public and private innovation in packaging. We are looking at ways to improve all of our coffee packaging, while still maintaining the freshness and quality that consumers have come to expect from us. We have made some strides in this area. Our hot and cold beverage cups are made from fully renewable materials. And our new 10 and 12 ounce bags of coffee are made from 19% PLA – a bio-plastic sourced from corn.
Fourth, we are introducing more Fair Trade Certified® coffees into our K-Cup line. We believe that’s good for Fair Trade as well as for our business. Its good for Fair Trade because the K-Cup market is growing quickly; having Fair Trade Certified® coffees in K-Cups helps grow the Fair Trade system and exposes more people to great Fair Trade Certified® coffees. Its good for our business because we know consumers like Fair Trade Certified® coffees when they get a chance to learn what it means and taste it.
Fifth, we offer the My K-Cup product, a reusable filter assembly that can be refilled by the consumer, is easily cleaned, and is compatible with all Keurig home brewers sold today.
I hope that helps explain how we're working to answer the question "How should the next K-Cup be?" - we look forward to sharing our results with you as soon as we can.
We appreciate the comments and feedback related to the environmental impact of the Keurig® Single-Cup Brewing System. Since the posting of this blog, we created a webpage on our Brewing a Better World website that has the most recent information on our work to reduce the environmental impact of the K-Cup® portion packs.
Please visit that webpage for the most up to date information on these efforts.
A few highlights from that work include:
-Commissioning a Life-Cycle Analysis that compared single-cup brewing using the Keurig system to drip brewing across a number of environmental dimensions. This analysis indicated that the disposal of a product’s packaging generally represents a fraction of its total environmental impact and that the most significant environmental impact actually occurs in the production of the materials used to create the product. We are acting on this information.
-Investing significant resources in working with packaging suppliers to identify and implement materials changes that will meet our standards for quality and deliver the most significant positive environmental impact, both in the creation and disposal of our packaging.
-Evolving our product design processes and systems by, among other things, educating our engineering staff about sustainable design and establishing in-house Life-Cycle Analysis capability so that we can build greater environmental responsibility into our products and their packaging from the beginning.