We haven’t ditched the 12-cup drip coffee maker for our morning coffee, but the single-serve Keurig coffee maker lets us make less in the afternoon or evening, and lets me indulge my taste buds with a variety of flavored coffees while my husband sticks to his preferred brand of Columbian coffee. There’s just one problem: K-Cups aren’t recyclable.
Or, are they?
Last year, we installed a compost bin in the back yard. It has started producing some quality compost, and some of the nitrogen is supplied by our morning coffee grounds and paper filters. Seemed a shame to let the grounds in the K-Cups go to waste. I started looking into whether it might be possible to at least salvage the grounds.
It’s not too difficult to strip the foil lid from a K-Cup. I save up about a week’s worth, then strip the lids and dump the grounds onto a paper towel–wait, what?
Rewind. Paper towels, it turns out, make poor composting material. They just don’t break down as easily as coffee filters or cardboard or leaves. In trying to be good for the environment, I’m just making more waste for the landfill. So, I trade the paper towel for a dinner plate. Pull the trash bin next to the table, and settle in. It’s a bit tedious.
Rewind, again. Make a cup of coffee to enjoy while working. Add the pod to the pile. Build the Tower of London. Settle in.
First, stick a thumb into the hole in the center of the foil lid and rip to the edge of the plastic cup. Peel the lid away in a circular motion.
Up-end the K-Cup and tap out the contents onto the plate. (Squeeze the sides of the plastic cup to loosen the coffee grounds.) Ask yourself why nearly dry coffee grounds stick to the sides of smooth plastic. Peer closer at the damned thing. Say whaaaat?
That’s paper. A teeny-tiny paper filter! Reach in and grab it, any way you can. You’re not going to reuse it, so it doesn’t matter one bit if it tears. Just grab and pull:
Or, scrape around the top edge with a fingernail (my manicurist hates me now) and rip that filter right out of the cup. There’s just a tiny rim of glue at the top edge, holding it in.
Good thing coffee filters are compostable, too!
Ahh, lovely depth of field, eh? If you love digging in the dirt, but it’s a cold and rainy day, this is the perfect feel-good activity.
If you’re really feeling artsy, you might try using the coffee-stained filters to make paper. All you’ll need is a whole lot of them, a blender, a drying screen, some natural sunshine – but that’s a project for another day. Today, this is future plant food.
I feel better about my excessively consumerish coffee habits, now, don’t you?
I still wasn’t sure what to do about the plastic cups – it’s more effort than it’s worth to try to scrape off the rim of glued-on paper filter, rinse the cups, and figure out whether they’re recyclable. It turns out, though, that they are – and that there IS an even better solution, if you’re willing to spend $10 (and if it saves a $25 manicure, why wouldn’t you be?)
I’ve ordered this little gadget called the Recycle A Cup Cutter. I found it while fact-checking myself on this post. The cutter more easily separates the foil lid, plastic cup, and the filter with its coffee grounds. If your community does not offer recycling or doesn’t take #7 plastic, you can collect all your little plastic cups (they’re lightweight and stackable) and send them in for recycling! A single cutter is $9.99 and shipping is free if you live in the continental U.S.A. I’ll let you know how it goes, once mine gets here.
UPDATE: It’s arrived! It works exactly as advertised, making the composting and recycling chore a lot faster, cleaner, and more manicure friendly. Definitely worth the $10 (and they must not have had the single cutter – they sent me two!) Basically, the device fits over the lid. Squeeze the green buttons on both sides, and two little cutters (like tiny X-Acto knives) come out. Twist, one full turn, and you’re done! You can recycle the plastic cups and dispose of the coffee (still in the filter, still attached to the ring with the foil lid attached), or you can now easily pull off the filter with the coffee grounds to compost, first.
There’s no need to point out to me, in the comments, that I can already get refillable, reusable filter baskets for the Keurig. I have them and and I use them regularly!
I have both of the types shown below – both work in the K-Elite – be sure to buy the kind that are compatible with your coffee maker, as they are not all “universal”:
But sometimes, I do enjoy the convenience of the regular K-Cups (not having to scrape and wash the teeny-tiny metal filter basket, for example – and would rather just save up the K-Cups (now that I know they’re not quite the ecological disaster they appear to be) and recycle them myself.
I hope, now that you see how easy it is, you’ll feed your garden and do your little bit to reduce plastic in the landfills! Read “11 Ways to Use Coffee Grounds at Home and in the Garden” for even more recycling ideas. If you work in an office that has a Keurig, set a bin behind the machine to collect the cups, take them home, and use them to feed your own plants. I doubt anyone will mind, if you’re willing to put in a few minutes’ work on it each week! Take turns, if other gardeners like the idea. Or at least get one of the little cutters and encourage co-workers to take a minute to separate the bits and put the plastic into the recycle bin instead of the trash.