At Christmas, my husband surprised me with a single-serve coffee machine. To get an idea of how much I liked my present, I’ll just tell you that the 40-pack coffee sampler we bought was gone in less than two weeks (hanging head in shame). I love my Keurig and the convenience that single-serve coffee packs offer, but I didn’t love all the waste generated by the single-serve cartridges. So we bought a reusable/washable filter that works with the Keurig, and I’m really happy with that.
But every once in a while we do use the K-Cups, like when company is here and we are pressed for time, or want to make different types of coffee available to people (regular, decaf, flavored, etc.).
Like many others, I’ve wondered if K-Cups can be re-used or recycled. I never found any satisfactory answers to this question….until now. Recycle A Cup™ has created a little tool that separates the plastic K-Cup from the cartridge so you can re-use or recycle them. Recycle A Cup sent me their new tool to review, plus a pack of decaf K-Cups to facilitate the testing process.
What’s in a K-Cup? Components include the aluminum foil lid, the coffee grounds, a heat-sealed paper filter and the plastic cup. It’s not that you can’t recycle the parts, it’s just that separating them out is time consuming. And while Keurig has recently launched a Grounds to Grow On program, it’s only available to commercial customers right now. Where does that leave the average consumer who goes through hundreds or possibly thousands of K-Cups per year? This is the problem that Recycle A Cup has sought to address.
Here are the basic steps for using Recycle A Cup:
#1 LOAD: Place a used (cooled down) K-Cup into the holder. Gently turn until you feel the puncture hole on the K-Cup align and settle with the tiny little pin at the bottom of the holder. Put the lid on top, lining it up with the notches on the holder.
#2 TWIST: Without pushing the green buttons, give the lid a quarter turn to set it for cutting. Then press and hold both green buttons while twisting one full turn. This completes the cutting process.
#3 SEPARATE: Release the buttons and remove the lid. The top part of the K-Cup, with filter bag and grounds still attached, will come loose. The plastic bottom will remain in the holder; pop it out by pushing your finger through the hole in the bottom.
#4 RECYLE OR REUSE: The white plastic cup can be recycle or repurposed (see below for ideas). The filter bag and grounds can be composted. The foil lid can be peeled off and recycled.
Here’s my quick photo tutorial, plus there’s a video on You Tube if you’d rather see it in action.
What can you do with the separated plastic K-Cups? Simply find a local recycling center that accepts #7 hard plastics. If they can’t be recycled, you can repurpose them as seed starters, or wash and use for freezing things like mini Jello treats.
Seed starter idea, as seen on Pinterest
Plastic cups can also be collected and mailed in batches to Recycle A Cup, and they will take care of recycling for you:
Attn: RAC Processing
54 Washburn Street
Bridgeport, CT 06605
The Recycle A Cup tool is not actually made of recycled plastic, however the company hopes to change this within in the next two years. You can still recycle the tool at the end of its useful life, though.
Here’s a brief summary of my thoughts on the Recycle A Cup:
- The separation process is quick and easy. It takes me about 20 seconds, which is much faster than trying to do it manually.
- There is no mess.
- It can potentially reduce a massive amount of K-Cup waste (13% of the US population enjoyed a single serve brew yesterday – that’s a lot of plastic cups ending up landfills)
- By exposing the organic component (coffee grounds) Recycle A Cup can help speed up decomposition (as opposed to the grounds being trapped in the plastic cartridge)
- Your initial purchase of the Recycle A Cup tool includes 2 extra replacement cutting blades.
- Recycle A Cup does not separate the foil top, paper filter and grounds; this must still be done by hand and is messy. As the website explains, though, it’s not a perfect process, and is one meaningful step towards making the use of K-Cups more eco-friendly.
- Recycle A Cup is specifically designed to work with K-Cups and so may not work with all single-serve cartridges.
If you want to go the extra mile and break down your K-Cups completely, I recommend standing over the sink as you work the paper filter and coffee grounds loose, and have a container ready to dump it in for composting. You’ll need to wash your hands and rinse out the sink when done.
Here is what you end up with after breaking down a K-Cup completely:
Recycle-A-Cup suggests that replacement cutting blades be purchased every 30 days. A package of 6 costs just $9.99.