Why the Man Behind Keurig’s Coffee Pods Wishes He’d Never Invented Them

Name: John Sylvan.

Age: About 57.

Appearance: About 57.

Who the hell is he? The guy who invented American coffee pods.

Only American ones? Yes. The US mostly uses K-Cups, produced by Keurig Green Mountain, which grew out of the company that was founded on Sylvan’s invention in 1990. Snooty Europeans have Nespresso, which is a bit older.

Are other brands of coffee pod also available? They are. Indeed the whole market is growing like crazy. Keurig Green Mountain had revenue of $4.7bn last year – a fivefold increase on 2010. Nespresso took about the same in 2013.

Who’d have thought you could make money feeding people’s addiction ultra-conveniently? John Sylvan. “It’s like a cigarette for coffee,” he told the Atlantic magazine on Monday.

Ah, yes. Except now he’s racked with regret about the whole thing. “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it,” he said. These days, no longer part of the company, he doesn’t even own a Keurig machine. “They’re kind of expensive to use ... plus it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make.”

Why would he feel bad though? Because K-Cups generate vast amounts of plastic waste that does not biodegrade and cannot be recycled, and this is bad for the environment.

Bloody environment, spoiling everybody’s fun. It needn’t though. For instance, since 2006, Keurig has been making some different kinds of K-Cups that are 100% recyclable. As are Nespresso’s aluminium pods. There’s just one problem.

What’s that? People don’t recycle them, because it’s such a pain. The K-Cup ones need to be broken into three sections and processed separately (where facilities exist). The Nespresso ones are better, but many recyclers won’t take them. Nespresso runs its own slightly cumbersome recycling programme, but – surprisingly – they don’t say how many of their pods get recycled.

If only we could invent a way of making coffee without mass-producing billions of plastic and aluminium pods. You mean like instant granules, cafetieres, conventional espresso machines, stovetop percolators, drip filters or the Aeropress?

Yeah, if someone could invent one of those, that would be amazing. We live in hope.

Do say: “Caffeine pills: be an eco-addict.”

Don’t say: “Actually, I find landfill sites quite picturesque.”

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