Are K Cups Recyclable

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.

reusable k cup

The idea behind reusable k cups or reusable coffee pods is to cut down on waste and, ideally, save you money. Also, it can help minimize your environmental footprint.

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.

Also, I recently received this really fun advent calendar for adults filled with single-serve coffee pods that I can use in my Keurig. Now, of course I need to use these.

keurig k cup advent calendar for adults
Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

Now if you have a drip coffee maker, the point is moot. You can just brew a pot of coffee when you have guests. In fact, since writing this article, our Keurig machine broke. So we got a combo Keurig single-serve coffee machine and drip coffee maker., all in one Now I can choose to brew a pot or make a single-serving cup of coffee.

But still: since I can still use a k cup to make coffee and I do, 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

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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. Also, some recycling programs may not accept the plastic cups that make up these Keurig coffee pods.

In fact, someone in California sued Keurig because she couldn’t recycle her k cups where she lived. So, your mileage may vary with whether or not you can recycle them in your curbside recycling program. Apparently, not all curbside recycling programs in California, for example, take plastic k cup containers.

However, 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 foil top of the k cup to remove the top.

Not sure if you can recycle your plastic k cups curbside? Well, check the bottom of the pod. There, you’re likely to see a number inside a recycling symbol triangle. Then compare that with the kinds of plastics your curbside service takes. The majority of communities in North America should take these plastics for recycling.

If you can’t recycle curbside, what are the chances that you own a Subaru vehicle? I ask because I spotted these k cup recycling bins at my local Subaru dealership.

Coffee pod recycling bins at Subaru.
Photo credit: Leah Ingram.

I was in to get my Subaru Forester serviced and noticed these Terracycle recycling boxes that take k cup coffee capsules, along with other items that might otherwise be hard to recycle.

Finally, in addition to Terracycle, in commercial settings, such as college dining halls, it is possible to work with Keurig directly to recycle k cups. This is part of the K-Cycle recycling program.

K cup recycling tool

In writing this article, I discovered that someone really has invented a k cup recycling tool. It’s a cool little gadget 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.

You can buy this k cup recycling tool on Amazon, Walmart or eBay.

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.

knife in kcup

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 lid 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.

top removed from k cup and grounds in bowl

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 bit of filter off the cup and coffee grinds out.

holding filter cut out of k cup

Do the best you can. Place the rest of the filter in your compost. Then, I’ll empty the coffee grounds and the used filter parts into my backyard compost bin. Don’t have access to composting at home? Your town may have a composting operation. Where I live, you can bring a five gallon bucket of compost to what we call the transfer station. It costs you $1 to dump it there.

Seven, rinse the k cup plastic pod shell and put it in your recycling bin. Also, I just learned that the aluminum foil lid or top is recyclable. I didn’t know this before researching this article. The best way to dispose of clean aluminum foil? Ball it up.

k cup in recycling bin

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.

swiss miss hot chocolate k cup recyclable

Nespresso recycling

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.

Terracycle Zero Waste Box

While Terracycle has tons of free recycling programs, which brands sponsor, their drop off points may not be convenient for you.

That’s one of the reasons that the company created their Zero Waste Box.

The notion behind the Zero Waste Box is simple.

Just because you no longer have a use for something doesn’t mean it needs to go to waste.

The Zero Waste Box ensures hard-to-recycle products and packaging are recycled and not sent to landfills.

Both businesses and homes can purchase a Zero Waste Box.

Then, you can fill it with items that are not easy to recycle and send it back to Terracycle for recycling.

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