Once a K-Cup® is used, it is simply thrown away. After using a K-Cup® to brew a single-cup beverage, the pod is removed from the brewing machine and disposed of in any trash can. Many of the plastic cups are not recyclable or biodegradable, and the company has a goal to ensure that all K-Cup® packs are 100% recyclable by 2020 (Creating Sustainable Products).
The disposal of Keurig® K-Cups® has the largest environmental impact of any step in the commodity chain. K-Cups® are rapidly accumulating in landfills. Thirteen billion K-Cups® ended up in landfills in 2014 alone, and the total amount of pods sold in 2014 could encircle the globe 10.5 times (Hamblin 2015). With such a popular product, disposal must be more sustainable. Plastic waste is not an insignificant issue. It is creating problems not only on land, but in oceans and other waterways as well, putting numerous animals at risk. The role of K-Cups® in plastic pollution is now public knowledge, and yet people continue to purchase K-Cup® packs. This represents a crossroads between environmental and social impacts. Consumers in America and Canada are aware of how damaging the coffee pods can be, and yet they continue to gain popularity and remain on store shelves. The environmental issue of Keurig® brewing pods reflects a social issue as well, because people are more concerned with making their favorite beverages in a convenient fashion than protecting the planet. Of course, this problem should decrease if K-Cup® packs become 100% recyclable by 2020, but unfortunately there already has been and will continue to be irreversible damage done before that time.