Keurig, an American manufacturer, produces single serve coffee brewing machines that have become wildly popular with about 12.5 million brewers produced. It is estimated that about 13% of the adult population in the United States owns and uses a Keurig coffee brewer regularly. Because of this, Keurig controls 26% of coffee ground sales in the U.S., so about 13 billion K-Cups were produced in 2013 alone.
The K-Cups, which are not recyclable, have been piling up in landfills since the early 2000s, which is around when they were first released.
“I feel bad sometimes that I ever (invented the K-Cup),” John Sylvan, the inventor of K-Cups, told James Hamblin of The Atlantic.
Mrs. Christina Palladino, one of the GATE teachers, became fed up watching the amount of K-Cups that were thrown in the trash in the teachers’ work centers. To raise awareness about the environmental effects of K-Cups sitting in landfills for years, GATE requested that students bring in their used K-Cups during the month of February. The goal is to break down the K-Cups and recycle all of the parts separately.
“We are reusing all parts of the K-cups. The foil I’m taking home and recycling in my recycling bin then we are tearing out the filter and the coffee grounds and we’ll put those in composts and then the plastic cup we plan to use 500-600 to plant seedlings. We collected 3,607 and we cannot plant that many seedlings so what we plan to do is send to a company that will recycle them,” said Elder.
Breaking down a K-Cup, is a time consuming task, but the benefits it brings to the environment is worth spending the extra time.
“The life skills students have helped us break down some of the K-Cups because it’s fairly time consuming. We timed it and it takes 20-30 seconds to break one down, which might not sound like a lot, but when you multiply it by 3,600 it is. That’s a lot of man power. Elliott Fix did a little bit of math and he figured out that it would take 25 hours to break down all of them. We weighed one k-cup and they average between 22g to 26g and if you do the math and convert it to pounds we figure that we kept about 180 pounds of waste out of landfills,” Elder said.
More than half of the K-Cups that have been brought in have been broken down and recycled. GATE has already begun planting the seedlings.
However, having 3,600 cups full of coffee grounds can prove to be a problem.
“When we realized how many coffee grounds we had that were meant to be put in compost, we realized that there was too much and it would end up changing the composition of the sold too much, so we were looking for ways to use up coffee grounds,” said Palladino.
Palladino and Elder then decided to make garbage disposal cleaners with all of the excess coffee grounds.
The garbage disposal cleaners are made of coffee grounds, baking soda, Epson salts, vinegar, and vanilla. Combined, they make little pellets that clean garbage disposals naturally instead of using harsh chemicals.
The GATE teachers will be selling the garbage disposal cleansers to teachers at the high school for $1.00 for 10 pellets. The money made from the cleansers will be used to buy soil to continue planting seedlings.