K-Cup inventor regrets his invention

04 Mar 2015


When John Sylvan invented the K-Cup in the 1990's, probably the most popular capsule among the millions of Americans who now have a push-button coffee machine in their kitchen, he never thought he would come to regret his invention.

The K-Cup, which sparked a revolution in coffee making is now attracting environmentalists' backlash, who say the company was now producing enough K-Cups to circle the earth 10.5 times every year, with very few being recycled.

Keurig Green Mountain, the company Sylvan founded with his co-inventor Peter Dragone, has become a giant that earned $4.7 billion in revenue last year.

Environmental groups have launched a "Kill the K-Cup" campaign, on YouTube video showing the world being destroyed by the coffee capsules.

Sylvan, who sold his stake in the company in 1997, now shares the concerns of the campaigners.

However, according to Keurig Green Mountain, all post-2006 variants of its capsules were fully recyclable, and its sustainability report, released earlier this month stated, "A top sustainability priority for us is ensuring that 100 per cent of K-Cup packs are recyclable by 2020."

The company last year, brought out a second-generation version of its hot-drink-brewing machines that come with a form of ''digital rights management'' restriction more suitable for proprietary software than everyday appliances.

Henceforth, Keurig 2.0 would only work with properly branded proprietary K-Cups unlike any properly sized K-Cup, as Keurig machines originally did.

But Keurig fans who bought new machines would have none of it as their old K-cups no longer worked.

Also though the company's DRM restrictions proved ridiculously easy to work around (the new machines only worked with an officially branded new K-cup label - but a single label could be re-used almost indefinitely), many former Keurig owners were opposed to Keurig 2.0 machines on general principles.

Since brewing coffee in K-cups was much more more expensive than making the same amount of drip coffee at home, Sylvan figured the single-serve K-cup machines would be used only in offices, not in homes.

He could not have been more wrong. Today, up to one in three US kitchens has a single-serve Keurig or Keurig-style coffee machine –and, although re-usable, refillable coffee pods are availalable, as also various (non-Keurig) brands of single-use pods made from biodegradable materials, the majority of Americans still used disposable plastic K-Cups that are mostly discarded rather than recycled.

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