Are K cups recyclable? Well, the answer is both yes and no.
Also, you may be surprised to learn which parts of a k cup can go in recycling and which cannot. This was new information to me.
Why write about the recyclability of k cups?
Well, you may have seen my article about reusable k cups. These are metal, mesh and plastic cups you can buy on Amazon and fill with your own coffee grounds.
The idea behind reusable k cups is to cut down on waste and, ideally, save you money. But, let’s be honest, sometimes you’re feeling lazy.
For example, over the holidays, when we have company, it is much easier to put out commercial k cups rather than stand and fill and refill the reusable cup with coffee grounds.
With all that in mind, I decided to write this article because I’ve learned a few things about the recyclability of coffee pods. So, here goes.
Recyclable K Cup Brands
Maybe you want to buy only recyclable k cup brands. Because you think it’s better for the environment.
For starters, all k cup brands are recyclable. That is, if you know how to deconstruct them after you’ve used them.
I repeat: all k cups are recyclable.
It’s just that some k cups are easier to recycle or compost than others.
You can look on the box to see if the company making the k cups has made it easier for you to recycle. For example, the Keurig company, inventors of the k cup, explain on the Keurig website what it has done to make it easier for consumers to recycle the cups after use.
I have a box of Keurig Green Mountain Coffee. You can see from this picture how they promote recyclability right on the box.
One of the changes is making the top peelable. That is, after you’ve brewed coffee and the pod has cooled down, you can use the pull tab on the k cup to remove the top.
K cup recycling tool
In writing this article, I discovered that someone really has invented a k cup recycling tool. It’s called Recycle a Cup.
Basically, it’s a cutter designed to separate the k cup top and inner filter in one move. You have to press the two buttons on the top of the tool while twisting. That may require some dexterity.
How to recycle k cups
On the other hand, you can try my DIY method for recycling k cups. Or preparing k cups for recycling.
So, what’s the trick to recycling k cups and what makes k cups recyclable? Well, it’s a multi-step process and answer.
You can’t just drop them in the recycling bin. You’ll need to follow these steps first.
Steps to recycling k cup coffee pods
One, after brewing your coffee, let your k cup cool off.
Two, remove it from the Keurig machine or whatever brand of coffee maker you use with your k cups.
Three, remove the aluminum foil top from the cup. You can do this using a k cup recycling tool like REcycle a Cup. I use a knife from my silverware drawer.
I’ll put the knife tip down into the k cup, and “scoop” the knife around the sides of the cup until I’ve made a complete circle. It feels a lot like scooping out the seeds from a cantaloupe.
Four, rinse the aluminum foil top and set aside.
Five, now you’re left with the coffee filter, which is likely attached to the cup’s sides, and the coffee grounds. So, dump out the loose grounds into your compost container.
Getting the filter out of the cup
Six, take the knife and cut around the edges of the cup again, in the same motion, to remove the filter from the cup. Once you’re done with the knife, you may have to use your fingers to get the last little bits of filter off the cup.
Do the best you can. Place the rest of the filter in your compost.
Seven, rinse the k cup and put it in your recycling bin.
Also, I just learned that the aluminum foil top is recyclable. I didn’t know this before researching this article.
The best way to dispose of clean aluminum foil? Ball it up.
So, by following all of these steps, you’ve just now figured out how to keep 100% of your k cup out of the waste stream. That is, you’ve composted the insides of the cup, and are recycling the rest of it.
What about k cups with plastic tops
There are some brands of coffee pods that have plastic tops that peel off. I remember buying some of these from Target–the Good and Gather brand.
However, it seems that Target may have updated the design as they seem to have aluminum foil tops now. Also, the Good and Gather coffee pods have a tab on the top, which makes for easier removal and recycling.
Other kinds of k cups
Maybe you don’t use k cups to drink coffee. Perhaps you’re brewing tea or hot chocolate in your Keurig instead.
Good news: they’re all likely recyclable. In fact, I’ve found that the hot chocolate cups are the easier to recycle because once used, there is nothing inside.
Another popular single-serve coffee pod are those from Nespresso. Owned by the Nestle Corporation, Nespresso has a robust (pun intended) recycling program in Europe. In the United States, not so much.
However, there are two ways to recycle Nespresso coffee pods. One, if you live in New York City, you can put them into blue curbside recycling bins. You recycle them whole.
Two, Nespresso says you can use pre-labeled UPS bags to return them to the company for recycling. They turn them into pens and sneakers and stuff.
Here is a link to order the free recycling bags from Nespresso. At least they appear to be free. If you find out differently, please let me know.