Making a plastic planet one cup of coffee at a time

Last December I stayed at the Conrad Miami and I made a comment in my hotel review about the waste of a single use plastic container for one cup of Illy coffee. I tried to make a second cup of coffee reusing the plastic container to no avail. A second run gives slightly colored water.

Reading Joe Brancatelli today I learned that Hilton Garden Inn partnered with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. to supply Keurig single cup brewing coffee makers as the hotel brand’s room standard.

Apparently 12% of U.S. households own single cup coffee brewers and more hotels are adding these coffee makers as they make guest room improvements.

The manufacturing requirements of the K-Cup pack currently make recycling difficult, according to Keurig. The website explains: “The K-Cup pack is made up of three main elements: the cup itself, a filter and an aluminum foil top. The pack’s components prevent oxygen, light and moisture from degrading the coffee. Without the barrier the packaging materials provide, we could not maintain quality or freshness.”

As Single-Serve Coffee Use Soars, Industry Struggles with Recycling Solutions – Environmental Leader June 5, 2013.

I love coffee to start my morning. I brew a pot of coffee. I use a natural brown paper filter and fill it with fresh ground beans I buy at Costco. Currently I have Peet’s Coffee Major Dickason’s Blend. I think I paid around $12 for two pounds. That is enough coffee beans to make about 300 cups of coffee for me. That is about 4 cents per cup of coffee.

Those single cup plastic pods are about 60 cents per cup of coffee and require significantly more energy to produce and generate immensely more landfill plastic waste. I know I am in the minority when it comes to coffee consumption and consumerism. It blows my mind that so many people actually go to Starbucks regularly and pay $2 to $3 for a cup of coffee.


“Americans under the age of 40 are thinking about coffee pricing in cups,” said Ric Rhinehart, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. “If you asked my mother how much coffee cost, she would have told you that the red can was $5.25 a pound and the blue can was $4.25. If you ask people in their 20s and 30s, they’ll say coffee is $1.75 to $3.75 a cup.”


Nespresso has sold more than 27 billion capsules worldwide since it was introduced in 1986.

With Coffee, the Price of Individualism Can Be High – New York Times Feb 7, 2012.

Cornell’s Center for Hospitality Research Center published a survey this year showing that a hotel’s environmental policy was the lowest ranked consideration among hotel guests surveyed in several countries around the world. Only Germans placed environmental policy above corporate policy to rank second to last of ten factors influencing a choice of hotel.

Conrad Miami Illy

Illy espresso maker. I drank my way through the capsules of coffee pretty quickly. And I found that only one cup of coffee can be made with each capsule. I liked the taste, but it seemed kind of wasteful to have a throwaway plastic capsule for each cup of coffee I drank. – See more at:

I am such a novice when it comes to single cup coffee pods that my original article on Conrad Miami called the product ‘Iffy’.

And a commenter provided this response to my Conrad Miami article.

”I liked the taste, but it seemed kind of wasteful to have a throwaway plastic capsule for each cup of coffee I drank.” Environmental-friendliness aside, that capsule is a billion dollar product marketed by Illy, Starbucks, Keuring, Dunkin Donuts, et al.”

Joe’s article got me thinking again about the environmental impact of single use plastic pods for coffee.

Apparently I am not the only one concerned about the plastic waste.

“The whole concept of the product is a little bit counter to environmental progress,” said Darby Hoover, a senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “If you are trying to create something that is single use, disposable, and relies on a one-way packaging that can’t be recycled, there are inherent problems with that.”

A Coffee Conundrum – New York Times (Aug 3, 2010)

Is Recycling Coffee Pods the Solution?

Green Mountain Coffee, owners of Keurig, said in the 2010 New York Times article they were working on the engineering challenges of making an environmentally-friendly coffee pod container. Their current sustainability report indicates about 50% of the environmental impact of their coffee pod business comes from packaging and disposal of coffee pods.

Nespresso Capsules can be shipped free of charge to a recycling program for used pods involving shipping them to a TerraCycle center in New Jersey.

An interesting rebuttal to the TerraCycle recycling program comes from

When sensible people think about the environmental impact of that daily cup, they don’t buy pods that are made from fossil fuels, used once, shipped around the country and downcycled into low grade last resort uses. If they want a hit of Illy they might stick it in a Bialetti or a french press and then put the coffee grounds in their own garden.

Coffee pod greenwashing comes to America with Illy and Terracycle –

An industry news article came out this week that might lead to a solution.

Biome Bioplastics has developed a portfolio of compostable materials for coffee pods based on renewable, natural resources, including plant starches and tree byproducts. These bioplastics will degrade to prescribed international standards in composting environments.

Biome Bioplastics develops biodegradable coffee pod. Nov 5, 2013.

So what is wrong with simple drip filter coffee makers in hotel rooms?

According to Joe Brancatelli’s article, drip filter coffee makers are hotel mini meth labs. I am surprised to hear that. Seems like there would be more hotel fires.

I’ll stick with a drip coffee maker anyway. The meth residue will simply add to my morning coffee buzz.


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests. Check out my page of collated current hotel promotions.

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About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined in 2008.

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  1. From a website where most of the bloggers/readers would not give a second thought to doing a mileage run and you’re concerned about Keurig K cups?

  2. +1 for Mark, great comment.
    Illy’s espresso machine (the nice one for home use) allows you to re-fill the capsule with Illy coffee, meaning that you could actually eliminate the issue this article is about.
    Coffee is a real sore spot in the U.S., non-discerning people appartently think spending money on something will make them experts… and they drink pumpkin spice lattes for $4.

  3. I’m concerned about mileage runs too. I had that epiphany flying Air France over the Andes between Argentina and Chile in June 2007 as I read the environmental article in their in-flight magazine about how high the emissions are per passenger for air travel while drinking my espresso in business class.

    That was my last mileage run solely for miles and EQM.

  4. Nice post Ric. I am not a coffee drinker, but K-cups are an awful waste. I’m sure many people will blow this off, but i’m of the opinion that every little bit helps.

    Don’t get me started on the waste of single use water bottles. In many locations, water from the tap is perfectly safe for drinking, and equal or better than the stuff in bottles taste and health-wise. I carry a refillable water bottle when I travel.

  5. Sorry Ric, but i love my Keueig brewer with the Paul Newman pods. If it makes you feel any better, the Newman profits supposedly go to charity and we pretty much recycle everything else, rarely eat out.

  6. Thanks for posting this! I also believe the pods are a huge hit against the environment. I have a single cup brewer, but with a reusable filter. Everyone should be using one and composting their coffee grounds! Obviously just my 2 cents, but don’t blame me when we have no where to put those pods after the landfill is full! C’mon people, we only have one planet, right??

  7. @Mark

    Is your solution to do tell Ric to do nothing about anything, since other bloggers are doing worse things?

    Or will you take on the mileage runners to get them to cut back their frivolous travel and the harm they inflict?

  8. I agree with the sentiments against these singleserve pods for home use, but in the context of a hotel they have unique advantages due to a long shelf life and the lack of a coffee pot that requires cleaning.

    I do agree that in a home setting they are incredibly wasteful, and furthermore they have a very low ratio of coffee to water so you’re not getting a great cup of joe.

  9. I’m speaking of the K cups. The Nespresso pods are actually a fairly decent way to make a good shot of espresso, at least compared to putting a $1000 machine in each room.

  10. @Voice of reason

    I’m not opposed to mileage running, I would do it myself if I had the time and patience. The point I was trying to make is, if Ric wanted to make a difference, the environmental impact of telling the readers of his blog to stop using K cups is very tiny compared to something like a mileage run, which a lot of people who visit this site regularly do. I’m sure just one mileage run is more harmful than using K cups for a year.

    I agree that doing something is better than doing nothing, but this is like spitting at a fire… sure you’re helping, but there are other ways you can make more of an impact.

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