TerraCycle: Recycling mixed-material packaging, such as Keurig K-cups, poses challenge in recyclability; such packaging can be 100% recyclable if companies try to find alternate methods, such as Naked Grape's Wine Box Brigade's partnership with TerraCycle

Sandy Yang

Sandy Yang

Sep 23, 2014 – TerraCycle

TRENTON, New Jersey , September 23, 2014 () – As consumer interest in green lifestyles grows, customers are no longer satisfied with simply buying eco-friendly products. They are as equally interested in the impact their product packaging has on the environment, and are mindful of what they are throwing away with every purchase. This puts a lot of pressure on consumer product companies, as fully recyclable packaging can be difficult to produce. Despite the fact that many municipal systems have switched from dual stream recycling to commingled recycling, a lot of product packaging still cannot be processed through curbside pickup. Confounding the issue further is the fact that a lot of packaging tends to be made from a mix of materials. This typically means the packaging remains unrecycled, as the cost of sorting and processing the mixed components is too high for most municipal systems. This means that consumers have no choice but to throw most of their packaging away, regardless of their interest in keeping waste out of landfills.

A great example of the difficulties that arise when recycling multi-material products is the Keurig K-Cup® single-serve coffee pack. With a pod made from oil-sourced plastics and an aluminum foil top, they’re particularly difficult to recycle through traditional curbside pickup. Although Keurig does offer a small number of pods made out of recyclable plastic (only about 5% of their current cups), each component of the cup must be separated before they can be recycled. Unless a customer is willing to remove the aluminum lid from the cup and rinse out the coffee grounds, the pod will not be able to be recycled. How likely is it that the average consumer will be willing to do all that when a primary selling point of coffee pods in general is their convenience?

From an environmental standpoint, the difficulty in recycling K-Cups is a huge problem. In 2013, Green Mountain produced 8.3 billion K-Cups, enough to wrap around the equator 10.5 times. If the vast majority of these pods are getting thrown away, then we’re adding billions of cups to landfills every year. Keurig is looking forward to a greener future, however, picking 2020 as their goal for greater sustainability. The coffee company has promised to work towards making all of its K-Cups 100% recyclable. One strategy they have suggested is to begin using #5 plastics for more of their cups, rather than the mix of plastics they currently use.

Efforts like these are commendable, but 2020 is still a long way off. Until then, even products that are made from multiple materials can be 100% recyclable if companies make an effort to find alternate methods of recycling. The Naked Grape®, for example, is the only wine brand to make their wine boxes fully recyclable from bag to box, despite the fact that wine bags and spouts cannot be normally recycled through curbside pickup. Through a partnership with TerraCycle, the Naked Grape Wine Box Brigade® allows anyone to collect and send their wine boxes, bags, and spouts to TerraCycle, where all three materials are recycled. The program is completely free for participants, and for every wine box sent in, The Naked Grape donates $0.02 to the non-profit Clothes4Souls.

By providing customers with an easy way to recycle and an incentive to do so, The Naked Grape demonstrates a real commitment to being socially responsible. While alternative recycling solutions can be difficult to organize, the potential for greater corporate responsibility and less packaging waste is well worth the effort. It keeps environmentally-conscious customers happy and loyal to their respective brand, stops packaging from being buried forever in landfills, and allows the company to take responsibility for the packaging waste their products inevitably end up generating. 

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