Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Cost of Single Brew Coffee

Coffee from a weird little cup? My first experience with this was while I was doing my training in NYC- the office had a Keurig and every single fibre of my being screamed out 'WASTEFUL!' while my coffee addiction won out. I left shaking my head at those crazy New Yorkers and their random coffee doings. I mean, come on- this weird little coffee in a cup thing couldn't actually be a trend, right?

Wow, I am behind the times. The closer we get to the holidays the more I see single-cup coffee brewers everywhere. I am flabbergasted that people would 1) actually think yummy coffee could be brewed from a disposable cup and 2) be fine with the disgusting amount of waste produced by such ridiculous machines.
(Coffee from JustUs! last winter.... yum yum)

Lets take a quick peak at what a single use 'barcode' cup of coffee could actually mean for the environment.

Packaging: Each cup comes packaged in two-three different types of material, from plastic lined aluminum lids to the mysterious plastic cups. Although both Tassimo and Keurig have claimed that they were trying to find solutions neither cups are easily recyclable. Actually, if you'd like politic-speak- check out Tassimo's answer to 'Are T-Discs recyclable?':
The T DISC outer bag is composed of an aluminum, polyester and polyethylene laminate (to ensure freshness) and is suitable for energy recovery through incineration. (what the eff does that even mean???) The inner carton dispenser is composed of paperboard and is completely recyclable.

For the T DISC itself, in locations where plastic collection systems exist, you can cut away the label, rinse the remaining coffee grounds or tea leaves from the chamber and deposit the chamber and label with general plastics in your blue box (non PET)
.  (Tassimo, FAQ)
What utter crap- a total non-answer. In HRM only #1 and #2 plastics are acceptable and there is no indication as to the recycling number. To top it all off, even if they were easily recyclable, we all know that with each recycle the plastic is degraded making recycling not our go-to answer. (plus, each cup is made from virgin plastic... so no plastic saving on their end at all).

Okidoki, so lets assume that the plastic isn't recyclable. Say you have a two person (or two coffee drinking person) household. You drink two cups of coffee each per day. That's 27 cups a week, 1,452 a year. Of course we should factor in an extra 5 (ish) cups a week for company, that's another 260 a year, so a grand total (conservative, cuz lots of people drink more than two cups a day) of 1,712 a year. For one household. That's a lot of effing plastic for some freeze-dried milk and coffee.

Since we know recycling really is a piss poor solution, Green Mountain (a supposedly sustainable 'responsible' company that made over 800$ billion last year from Keurig K-cup sales) has been reportedly looking into 'biodegradable' solutions since 2006-2007. As we've chatted about previously, 'biodegradable' plastic really isn't a viable solution as A) it would need to stand up to the hot water used to make the coffee and thus be a more robust 'bio-plastic' resulting in B) needing high heat municipal composting system to process, not your backyard compost. Also, HRM does not accept 'bio-plastics' in our municipal composting system so they would all go in the landfill anyway, never to break down in the non-oxygen environment of black plastic bags (ideas and info from Sustainable is Good).

Lets say you really don't care about the impact of flooding a section of where you live with petroleum based plastic that will continue to live on for thousands of years (haha, who reading this doesn't care though really?), what about the cost?

The price for these weirdo caffeine pods range from about 3 to 11$ and I would assume the more pricey the better the taste. And really, if you're going to spend a whole bunch of money on these, why would you buy crappy freeze-dried coffee? You'd buy nice freeze-dried coffee. So let's say you'd spend about 7$ for 12 cups. That's 58 cents per cup of coffee (um, not factoring in the price of the machine). With our household estimate of 1,712 a year, that's 992.96$ a year. Wow.

Lets compare that to what Andrew and I spend for our whole bean, fair trade organic coffee that we grind with our crappy 20$ grinder and french press (yum!) which would be in the upper range for whole bean coffee. A large 1 pound bag is about 26$ and takes us about 6 to 8 weeks to demolish. Say we loaded our french press up with coffee grinds and it only took us 4 weeks. For the cream of the crop of pricey coffee beans that's only 312$ a year.

Single use coffee brewing machines are not only catastrophically wasteful in our already overloaded landfills but are also stupidly expensive. When looking for that perfect 'espresso' gift to give a coffee lover, why not purchase a 1 litre french press complete with a beautiful fancy coffee grinder and a bag of fair trade organic espresso roasted beans. Add some delicious fair trade organic chocolate (powder or syrup) and you have delicious coffee that is easy on the planet and your gift receivee's wallet.

article copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. great post. let's not forget the health factor as well- i remember my ex'es mom got one of these when they were brand spanking new. i tried a "latte" or something and it actually tasted like the plastic. so, by forcing boiling hot water through a plastic pod, you're ingesting all those lovely toxins as well. yummy.

    i am asking for organic whole bean coffee for Christmas :)

  2. "energy recovery through incineration" means it gets burned for fuel. just like #3-7 plastics do in places that "recycle" them/accept them in municipal recycling programs.

    but, what it really means is that the single-brew coffee industry (ahem...tassimo) is using big meaningless words in an effort to confuse the consumer.

  3. Jen... yes i know. that was my point- useless words to confuse. :)

  4. I agree- those coffee machines are really odd. Interestingly, the only time I've had it was when I was visiting my super eco-conscious friend in the Bay Area and spent the day with her at the school where she teaches. I wanted coffee, like every other morning, and she said "check out this cool machine!". I though tit was super weird because this is a friend of mine who is near obsessive about all things related to consumerism and being eco-conscious, yet she kind of had a blind spot when it came to this machine. I didn't think the coffee was very tasty either. I mean, I live in Seattle- I take my coffee seriously!

    French presses are super easy and IMO, the coffee tastes the very best. If you want a single cup- just get a tiny french press!

  5. I had to Google "single-cup coffee brewers" because I wasn't sure what they were!

    Most of the coffee makers here in Australia are esspresso machines of one kind or another. So... they look a little weird to me anyway!

    Not that I know too much about it all. Sadly, I generally can't drink more than the occaisional cup of coffee because it gives me a massive case of the jitters.! And I get very bad withdrawal symptoms if I drink even just one cup a day and for a while and then don't have any.

    That said, when I used to drink coffee more regularly, a French Press was definitely my preferred method at home. :)

  6. i think these machines are pretty ubiquitous in offices everywhere. we have one in my office. it's just one on a list of many things that are bad for the environment that i have no control over at work. what really annoyed me though was when my ex's dad got one of these machines to have at home even though they already had a great coffeemaker wtf!!

  7. Interesting you should post this two hours after I needed it! My co-worker wanted one of these and I searched the issues you mention a few months ago. I too was appalled by the potential environmental impact.
    I did find a product called AeroPress Coffee/Espresso Maker, which is a single + cup maker for $30 that makes a great cup of coffee. Really smooth.
    But not really convenient for office use if it doesn't have a sink. So I am interested in how "pod"/K-cups compare with folks buying take out coffee at Dunkins and Starbucks once or twice a day, with the throw away cups, etc. and the huge expense per cup.

  8. These are a huge pet peeve of mine!!

  9. I can see how office use would be a justification... except I work in an office= and we brew our own coffee. that I drink in my ceramic mug. It works just fine (and would have worked well in the office I visited in NYC too- it's not like there were hundreds of people working in that space).

    When I worked in an office that didn't have a coffee drip pot- I brought my own coffee from home in a reusable mug.

    another option- bring your reusable mug to starbucks.

  10. I keep seeing ads for these Tassimo machines and every time I do I cringe...such waste. I am always shocked that knowing what we know about the environment and our impacts on it companies are still making such wasteful machines...not to mention what those lovely toxins Callah mentioned do to our body!

    I am so looking forward to our new french press, I hope it arrives this week! Come check out the review when it does! :)

  11. I was going to say that my daughter and I have often talked about what a waste these are and I see she's already commented. (Hi, Lisa!). With Christmas coming up I'm sure lots of people have these on their wishlist. I may post something about it and since you've already done all the ciphering, I'll just send them your way to read your excellent post. Thanks for doing the math.

  12. My work used to have those single use cups for the entire office. Then they invested in single use little bags of coffee. Nice.

    I cringed when I made the realization. They replaced it with a huge monster all-in-one machine, but I think they still have a Keurig in at least one of the boardrooms.

    I don't work at the office so I'm not sure how much garbage they produced in a day, let alone a month or year. Gross. A piece of my heart died when I found out about it.

    We purchased a french-press a couple of weeks ago. I find the coffee a little bitter. (Maybe I'm steeping it to long?) I've been adding vanilla almond milk and maple syrup to help with the taste. It's drinkable, but definitely not addictive. That's pretty much what I was going for, otherwise I was going to give up coffee in January. When I buy coffee when I'm at work (reusable mug!) I add a ton of sugar and cream. It is so good and not healthy! I want to cut those out for sure in January and just make my own coffee on the weekend. Drink tea during the day.

  13. We do like you and Andrew (fair-trade beans, often from a local roaster, ground at home) but with a small coffee pot. We have a mini French press too, but it's easier to program the machine to have my coffee ready when I stumble out of bed. ;) Since I drink a cup a day (technically I guess it's 2 cups, but I drink it at once) and my husband hardly drinks any at all, it takes us a few months to go through a 1-lb. bag.

    I love these mythbusting posts of yours. I always learn new things!

  14. How timely - my office just got those and it made me want to scream. Before they were installed, a survey was conducted and I responded that I thought they were environmentally disastrous and costly for a company that is trying to save money. I would have thought everyone would have answered the survey the same way but alas, I guess I was in the minority. So I just quit drinking coffee at work.

  15. I know several people who are obsessed with their Keurigs and it drives me NUTS! I hate those wasteful machines! Makes me absolutely crazy that at this point in the game, that's what companies are manufacturing. Great, just what we need! :(

  16. This is perfectly timed. I received a Tassimo system as a wedding gift, making it two years old now. We used it religiously until we ran out of drinks for it, at which point it was forgotten.

    Since then, I have become a lot more aware of eco issues and how much waste our household produces. Even though I have been particularly focused on this in the past 6 months, I just said that we should buy more discs for the machine, not even thinking about all the waste that would produce!!

    I think I'm going to sell it and put the money towards a juicer so I can make my fruit/veg juice at home and therefore buy less bottled drinks.

  17. I feel a little bit like an idiot, because I have always wanted one of those machines! I recycle everything and can't believe I never thought of the waste I would be producing. Well, you've reformed me! I will stick to my regular coffee maker. Thanks!

  18. love this post! i don't get the single-cup coffee maker thing either. especially in a household that drinks a lot of coffee. it just doesn't make sense money-wise or eco-friendly wise. i do what you do and use my french press. and honestly, it makes the best tasting coffee anyways! :) hugs!!

  19. uh love this. my coworker just got one of these--i love my coworker but she's most definitely someone who takes very small green steps and yet feels she is very greenie. we were just at their house for a xmas party and hub saw their coffee/cocoa maker...and his excitement was annoying. ;) this post will make it for him to read... :) thanks gal for summarizing points and thoughts oh so well!

  20. I have never understood the appeal of those machines. They are so expensive. If I wanted to spend that kind of money I would buy a good burr grinder and a fancy coffee maker (but I wouldn't anyway because I am cheap).

  21. Thanks for putting numbers on what I already knew to be nothing more than boosting coffee snobbery to a new high and to line someone's pockets with money!


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