Debate and Discussion

Following the initial research the group debated and discussed the information they had gathered. The focused discussion was broken into three parts to better understand the recycling process as well as K-Cups in general.

A. Diagram The Recycling System

The diagram was created in two iterations. The original iteration is shown here:

(Click to enlarge)

This diagram was more focused to the specific cycle underwent by recyclable plastics with no defects or other waste associated with them. This would be the baseline for a plastic that simply goes through the basic cycle. This closed loop system helped us understand and visualize the cycle we were discussing Following this iteration a second diagram was created. This iteration is shown here:

(Click to enlarge)

This iteration looked to understand what happens to the multitude of plastics that cannot be simply reused. The red arrows on the diagram represent some of the stages that defected plastics will undergo in there waste cycle. The many plastics that cannot be simple recycled will reach other stages of the process such as entering a landfill. After the discussion of the first iteration the group found it important to represent some of these other cases in the diagram as shown.

B. Debate whether K-Cups and other coffee pods are recyclable

Our initial discussion on this topic with the notes that we took on it can be seen here:

  • #7 plastic is cost-prohibitive. A lot of plastic waste gets shipped overseas and is missed. The most cost effective way to dispose of it is to burn it
  • Plastic also must be cleaned & pure to be recycled.
    • About 1/4th of material sent to be recycled cannot be used because it is contaminated.
      • Companies are more likely to use “virgin” plastics to avoid contaminations, low price difference does not make recycled plastic a compelling option.
    • To recycle a K-Cup, you would need to fully separate the foil top, remove the filter, and clean out the coffee grounds from inside
      • Most people using Keurig’s use them to save time due to living a busy life- they are not likely to take the time to separate the pieces of the K-Cup
      • Filter material is biodegradable and would most likely be thrown away → if placed in a landfill, there is a low probability that the filter material would actually still be biodegradable due to the lack of oxygen 
      • Putting a K-Cup in the recycling bin does not work
        • Only 5% of the plastic is what we think of as “recyclable plastic”, the rest is #7 plastic. These plastics can’t be separated, so if you want to recycle a K-Cup they need to be placed in a separate bin from normal recyclable plastics to be taken to a separate recycling plant that has the ability to process #7 plastic

Following this discussion the group created a final conclusion and consensus decision that was made. That conclusion is shown here:

As a group, we came to the consensus that the current form of K-Cups are not recyclable. Even though certain parts can technically be recycled with much work and bringing the cup to the right place, the difficulty and inconvenience of recycling the cup means that it would be rare for a cup to actually complete the recycling process, therefore making the material not recyclable and instead ending up in landfills.

C. Debate who is responsible for all this K-Cup waste and why

Our initial discussion on this topic with the notes that we took on it can be seen here:


  1. Keurig
    1. They are making so much money off of this while they know they are exploiting the environment
    2. They pledged to create a recyclable K Cup by 2020 but have not fulfilled this promise. They obviously are not dedicating enough resources to this problem and instead are content continuing to make as much profit as possible
  2. Government 
    1. The government has not intervened on the production of these cups
    2. With all the other regulations for safety and health that other businesses have to follow, how was the government not taken any action to force Keurig to make more environmentally friendly K Cups
  3. Consumers
    1. At the end of the day, consumers are the reason why Keurig is so successful and still in business
    2. It is hard to blame people for choosing a convenient way to make coffee, but it is these people that are sustaining the Keurig business 
      1. Even though they may not like how the K Cups are bad for the environment, they are choosing to look the other way by continuing to purchase them.


  1. Keurig 
    1. Allowed this to happen by not redesigning the K-Cup even though they knew it wasn’t sustainable.
  2. Design Team
    1. When they designed the K-Cup they knew it wasn’t recyclable material but they still decided to use it regardless.
  3. Government 
    1. As this problem grew they did not do enough to lessen the environmental effects of K-Cups.


  1. Design Team:
    1. The design team did not consider the entire cycle for the product.  They chose materials that met the specifications for the product; however, they did not choose materials that were compatible with the current state of the recycling process.
  2. Consumers:
    1. Consumers gravitate towards a product that offers the simplest process to make coffee.  Typically being made in the morning, most consumers want this process to be as time efficient as possible.  This created an increase in demand for this product and contributed to the increase in K-Cup waste.
  3. Process of Making Coffee:
    1. The process of making coffee occurs at elevated temperatures and pressures.  This kind of environment demands a material that is able to withstand these conditions.  This led to the design team choosing a plastic that was engineered to handle these conditions but was not as common as other typically used plastics.  For this reason, the recycling process has been unable to adapt to these less common plastic materials.


  1. Keurig
    1. Produces millions of single use plastic products annually, with no environmentally friendly disposal or recycling method available
  2. Government
    1. Power to create environmental regulations to limit the production of single use plastics or to encourage the recycling of plastic products
    2. Could mandate recyclable products, recycling programs, or adoption of reusable materials
  3. Society/Consumer
    1. Single use plastics are socially acceptable in most parts of the US, consumers do not see the impact of their single use plastics and continue to use them out of convenience.

Following this discussion the group created a final conclusion and consensus decision that was made. That conclusion is shown here:

The group came to a consensus that Keurig holds the most blame for the increase in K-Cup waste.  Keurig as a company has stated goals of trying to make the K-Cups more recyclable; however, there has not been any significant improvements in the recycling of K-Cups.  Keurig continues to promote their product in this current unrecyclable state which is just contributing more waste with no immediate solution.  For these reasons, Keurig was deemed as the biggest reason for the continual rise in K-Cup waste.


The design team at Keurig also should be held accountable for the recyclability issue with the K-Cups.  The design team chose to prioritize the performance of the K-Cup material rather than the environmental impact of the material.  For this reason, the K-Cup product works exceptionally well in terms of functionality; however, after the product has served its purpose, the material has no way to be recycled back into its raw materials.  The design team should have considered the entire lifecycle of the K-Cup rather than just on its functionality.


The group also thought the government was to blame.  Currently, the government has not imposed any regulations towards improving the recyclability of the K-Cup.  In order to solve this issue, the government could impose stricter regulations mandating appropriate actions that Keurig must follow to make their product more recyclable.


Finally, the consumers also contributed to the increase in K-Cup waste.  Consumers tend to prioritize a coffee making method that would be most beneficial to them in terms of time.  Therefore, this has caused an increase in demand for Keurig’s and also an increase in waste.  Additionally, consumers continue to endorse the Keurig product and have not made a conscious effort towards finding an alternative coffee making solution.