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Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Killing the World for the Sake of Convenience
Did you catch the tidbit on the news the other day that the inventor of the Keurig coffee system regrets ever doing so? When he invented the system, John Sylvan thought there might be a limited appeal to people who would normally go Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts or other coffee chains in the morning, because now they could get a cup of coffee at work that was cheaper, faster, and no fuss. “That would make it environmentally neutral, because you wouldn’t have those Starbucks cups everywhere,” he said in an interview.
He is mystified that the system has become as popular as it has. In fact, because he never thought it would amount to much, he sold the rights to the system for a paltry $50,000 in 1997.
Since then, however, Keurig Green Mountain (the parent company) has taken off. It’s not just being used in offices, but in homes and other places as well. People seemingly can’t get enough of the stuff. Sales figures show that 1 in 3 homes in the US have a Keurig machine. In 2014, Keurig sold over 9 billion K–cups—the 1–serving coffee pods you pop in the machine to make a single cup of coffee. Since 2008, sales have increased 6–fold.
People have fallen in love with this system for two main reasons. One of the reasons, as someone said to me last week when I asked is, “It just tastes so good.” I wouldn’t know about that. I’ve never used the system, but I also find that the coffee I’m able to buy at local retailers also tastes pretty good.
But I suspect that the biggest single reason is the convenience of it. You pick up a single–serving K–cup, pop it into the machine, add water, and presto changeo you have a cup of coffee in almost any flavour you desire.
In a recent interview with The Atlantic, Sylvan says, “I feel bad sometimes I ever did it.” Why? He says it’s not because he’s not sharing in the massive profits of his invention. He regrets it because the K–cups have become an environmental hazard. They are not recyclable or biodegradable, and almost all of them end up in landfills. Sylvan indicates that he never anticipated this scale of waste.
Sylvan is aware of the appeal of the system. “It's like a cigarette for coffee, a single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance.” Each K–cup contains 11 grams of ground coffee, vacuum–sealed in nitrogen to prevent oxidation. At that rate, what you’re buying is standard coffee grounds for around $40 per pound. Pretty expensive coffee!
There are billions of them around. They are everywhere, over 400 varieties of hot drinks made by multiple manufacturers. In 2014, there were enough discarded K–cups to circle the globe 10½ times.
Keurig Green Mountain says it can make a recyclable cup by 2020, but Sylvan disputes this claim. Even if it is possible, that’s still 5 years away, which means we can circle the globe another 53 times with K–cups.
It amazes me how willingly we continue to damage the environment. It would be such a simple thing to stop using these pods. We’d also save some money, since the excellent coffee I buy at a local retailer is less than half the price of these convenient pods.
Sylvan thinks that Keurig users should think hard about the choices they’re making when it comes to a cup of coffee. “From a personal standpoint, it saves 20 seconds of your day,” he told As It Happens. “What's that worth?”
On a related note, do you know about what is being called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Billions of pounds of plastic garbage are trapped in a great holding pattern twice the size of
Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, held there by currents that draw the garbage in and won’t let it escape. The plastic doesn’t get there on its own … it gets there because we throw it into streams and rivers which make their way to the ocean. On some beaches in Hawaii, the plastic is up to 10 feet thick!
If you want to know more about how our hunger for convenience is killing the planet, there’s a wonderful “mockumentary” on youtube called “The Majestic Plastic Bag”.
We can stop killing the world. There are so many simple little things we can do.
What's it worth to you?
Rev Dr Yme Woensdregt is Incumbent at Christ Church Anglican Cranbrook BC