Keurig Dr. Pepper Introduces 100% Recyclable K-Cups
Keurig Dr. Pepper – one of North America’s leading beverage companies – has just announced that all of the K-cups they make are now recyclable. More than 100 manufacturing lines were converted to use the easily recyclable polyethylene #5 plastic in the production of all K-cups. The company has not only changed its manufacturing process, but it has also become a founding member of the Polypropylene Recycling Coalition, a new coalition founded to improve the quality and quantity of recycling plants across the United States. Both moves are a part of its Drink Well, Do Good corporate responsibility platform aimed, in part, at reducing its environmental footprint.
Keurig Dr. Pepper (KDP), headquartered in Burlington, Massachusetts, and Plano, Texas, makes specialty coffee and tea, water, juice, and mixers. Their well-known single-serve coffee brewing system is the number one such system in both the U.S. and Canada. The company has a portfolio of more than 125 owned, licensed, and partner brands including Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Canada Dry, Snapple, Bai, Mott’s, CORE, and The Original Donut Shop. With annual revenue of more than $11 billion and nearly 26,000 employees, KDP is in a position to set sustainable market trends. Recycling every K-cup is a big move, especially when the company is responsible for 80 percent of the coffee pods sold at retail.
The extensive effort involved converting all of their manufacturing lines as well as creating new packaging for the K-cup pods. The new packaging features a green recyclable flag and a How2Recycle label that communicates recycling instructions to consumers. This process took some time. In 2011, the company began to research how to make their materials recyclable. By 2016, KDP pioneered an award-winning testing methodology using Radio-Frequency Identification technology to make sure pods could successfully pass through the stream with other recyclables and be sorted properly. After testing thousands of pods, they found that 90 percent of recyclable K-Cup pods had the potential to be recovered, each of which could create more recycled polypropylene that can eventually be recycled into new products. After testing tens of thousands of pods at a dozen recycling facilities across North America, it was deemed a success – one verified by the Association of Plastic Recyclers. Over the past four years, these recyclable K-cups began hitting the market. Today, 100 percent are officially recyclable.
“Designing recyclable coffee pods is just one important step in our journey to make the Keurig brewing system more sustainable,” explained Monique Oxender, KPD’s Chief Sustainability Officer. “Our work continues to minimize our overall plastic footprint while we play a leadership role in cross-industry collaborations for critical recycling infrastructure improvements across the United States and Canada in support of a circular economy.”
In addition to converting 100 percent of K-Cup pods to the new recyclable format, KDP has intensified its efforts to ensure that recycling facilities across the U.S. have the capability to recycle polypropylene. In early 2020, with a $10 million commitment, KDP became a founding member and the largest funder of The Recycling Partnership’s Polypropylene Recycling Coalition. This coalition is a collaborative effort between 18 organizations, including Braskem, the Wal-Mart Foundation, and the NextGen Consortium. Each is highly dedicated to increasing the quantity and quality of polypropylene recycling. One of the coalition’s main efforts
is to provide grants to improve this type of recycling. In 2020, four materials recovery facilities received money to improve and increase the sortation of polypropylene and support targeted consumer education efforts to increase the collection of this valuable material.
KDP and the rest of the coalition companies hope to widen total nationwide acceptance of polypropylene in curbside recycling programs, where it is often discarded as an unaccepted material. Even small increases in that area will make a huge difference in how much can be reused in consumer packaging and automotive parts. KDP considers this an essential step to building a larger national plastic waste management system where many more materials can be successfully recovered and reused.KDP’s research and development teams are continually working on new sustainability innovations for Keurig brewers and pods. The company plans to increase the percentage of materials in each that is recyclable in 2021 while expanding the use of polypropylene to more brewer models. The next step in their Drink Well, Do Good plan is to convert the rest of their packaging to recyclable or compostable formats by 2025 while continuing to increase the use of recycled content.