The True Cost of Brewing with Coffee Pods

OR why you may want to stop using K-cup type Coffee Pods...

Millions of households in the US love their single-serve coffee brewers because they're quick and easy. Yes, they are convenient - but at what cost? Is it worth sacrificing the quality of your coffee, your health, your pocketbook, and the environment? If you own one of these machines, you don't have to throw it away to make a difference. Read on to discover the true cost of a (K-)Cup of coffee and solutions for feeling good about the coffee you drink.

I served eight years on the sustainability council of the Specialty Coffee Association and the introduction of these single-serve coffee pods is the biggest environmental nightmare to hit the coffee industry since the paper cup. Almost 25% of American homes own a single-serve brewing machine. That is over 90 million homes brewing single-use pods like K-cups every day, multiple times a day. That means almost 12 billion nonreusable, nonrecyclable plastic pods end up in our landfills every year and they will take thousands of years to decompose. That’s over 25,000 coffee pods per minute entering our landfills. And all in the name of convenience, and greed.
Coffee pods can cost anywhere from $40-50 per pound, compared to the $14-$18 per pound for regular organic whole-bean coffee. You might want to plug in your own numbers and do the math. How much more per cup are you paying? How many cups do you make in a year? I’m guessing it’s a lot of money. Now wouldn’t you rather use that money for something else instead of paying for packaging that will be here long after you are?
Fresh ground coffee has to off-gas before it can be sealed into an airtight container. So, coffee roasters are basically pre-staling the coffee before packaging it. And how long do you think those coffee beans have been in those little pods? And have you ever wondered how much coffee is in one of them? Using the Specialty Coffee Association standard, it’s probably not enough coffee-to-water ratio unless you choose the 6oz cup option – and seriously, how many of you will settle for a 6oz cup of coffee? It’s just as easy to use a French press, and the rewardis in quality is off the chart.
Even though the pods are BPA-free and made of “safe” plastic, studies now show that even this type of material can have harmful effects when heated. These plastic chemicals can act like estrogen in your body, throwing your hormones out of whack.Pods also contain aluminum. Even if all that aluminum doesn’t end up in a landfill , recycling aluminum produces some toxic byproducts that have to be buried in a landfill anyway.Unless you are meticulous about treating your pod brewer, it can become a breeding ground for mold and bacteria that can contaminate your coffee.You can prevent mold and bacteria growth on your machine by regularly cleaning it. To clean the inside crevices of the brewer, run vinegar and water through it for a few minutes before brushing it clean with a toothbrush. Now run it a few times with just water. Not so convenient now is it?


Although some pods are recyclable, most of them will still end up in landfill. Some brands even encourage you to “Peel, Empty, and Recycle” with a reminder that “Not recycled in all communities.”.

So basically, you must peel off the aluminum foil top, toss the grounds, the aluminum top, and the paper filter in the trash, and then rinse the plastic pod and add it to your recycling bin. You can ship the pods back to some roasters, but think about the carbon footprint of doing that!  


If you have already spent your hard-earned money on one of these machines, I’m not suggesting that you just throw it away. You can buy several refillable pods that you fill with your own favorite freshly ground coffee. You can pre-fill some of these refillable pods to have on hand for those frantic mornings when there’s just time for anything else.   

You'll get a better-tasting cup, save money, avoid contributing to the landfill, and you can always dump the used grounds into one of your houseplants. They'll love you for it. Now that's how you fill good about the coffee you drink! 

However, we highly recommend giving the French press a try. Just add ground coffee and hot water. Wait 4 minutes and presto – you have an even greater-tasting cup of coffee, with just a little more effort. So do yourself a favor and feel even better about your coffee.

Note:'K-cups' was first coined to describe the special coffee pods that Keurig, the first single-serve pod brewer used. It is often used to refer to all single-serve coffee pods.

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