Nearly one-third of Americans have a pod-based coffee machine in their home.
John Sylvan, the inventor of the immensely popular Keurig K-Cups, is not one of them.
“I don't have one. They're kind of expensive to use,” Sylvan told The Atlantic. “Plus it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make.”
Sylvan sold his invention to Keurig Green Mountain in 1997 for $50,000, but last year sales of the products accounted for most of the company's $4.7 billion revenue.
The product’s popularity has grown significantly in recent years. First, it was an office staple, but now people are bringing the easy-to-use coffee machine into their homes.
The backlash against K-Cups and other pod-brewing systems is growing — the cups aren’t easily recyclable or biodegradable. Recycling a K-Cup is an involved process; they have to be broken down based on their components, and the plastic portion can only be recycled in a few Canadian cities, not in the U.S.
“No matter what they say about recycling, those things will never be recyclable,” Sylvan said. “The plastic is a specialized plastic made of four different layers.”
Last year, more than 9 billion K-Cups were sold, likely leading to large quantities of plastic waste in landfills.
Sylvan has some regrets about his invention in light of its effect on the planet. “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it,” he said.
For its part, Keurig Green Mountain has pledged to create a fully recyclable K-Cup by 2020.