Coffee. Pretty much everyone drinks it. Whether you’re a 40 something executive or a college student trying to cram a paper at 2:00 A.M., there’s no doubt you’ve relied on a hot cup of joe to get you through a lot of last-minute work.
Considering how coffee is the drug of choice for powering our workforce, there’s no surprise that over 150 million Americans are regular coffee drinkers and drink an average of 3 cups a day. But a drink designed for the modern worker also needs to match the fast pace of living that’s common in offices and urban centers.
Enter Keurig, a self-proclaimed modern beverage company that’s known best for making coffee products. Keurig promises to bring you easy access to hot and cold beverages “anytime and anywhere.” But this consumer-driven need to cater to our desires for delicious coffee made at the press of a button doesn’t come free of drawbacks.
By the time you finish reading this, well, let’s just say you won’t look at your Keurig K Duo the same way.
What Is a Keurig K Duo and Should I Get One?
When John Sylvan and Peter Dragone started Keurig, they pulled its name from a Danish dictionary that said the word meant “excellent.” It was the perfect name for a fledgling company looking to overtake traditional coffee machines and single-use drip coffee bags.
Their goal was to reinvent the morning cup of joe by making it possible to make just one cup of coffee, a solution to the problem of coffee growing stale. How? By creating a coffee machine that could make solitary cups of coffee from capsules containing the exact amount of coffee grounds it would take to make one cup.
Obviously, they succeeded. Today, the Keurig is one of the most popular coffee brewing machines in the U.S with over 50 Keurig coffee machines released over the past several years. Though Keurig coffee machines can cost as much as four times as that of your average coffee maker, the convenience of being able to pop a capsule in a Keurig and have a perfect cup of coffee is just too powerful of a siren’s song.
While regular coffee makers have cheaper units and cost less to operate over time, given that they let you use regular coffee grounds, a Keurig doesn’t require measurement or any coffee know-how. You put your capsule in and you’re good to go — except it still costs a small fortune compared to just using coffee grounds.
Enter the Keurig K Duo, one of the Keurig coffee machine models that let users use loose coffee grounds rather than K-cups. The Keurig K Duo also accepts reusable K-cup, often made of food-safe plastic and stainless steel, which lets users cut back on the single-use plastic consumption that comes with the use of your standard K-Cup.
I know what you’re thinking. If a Keurig K-Duo is designed to let you brew perfect cups of coffee with K-Cups, then why use loose coffee grounds at all? Well, that’s because your K-Cups form part of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic that has been produced since the 1950s.
Brewing Disaster: Keurig K-Cup Inventor Says He Regrets It
8.3 billion metric tons of plastic sounds like a lot but doesn’t really drive home the environmental effects of your Keurig K Duo routine. So, let’s dig into the details.
The K-Cups used for the Keurig K Duo and other Keurig machines fall under the category of single-use plastics. As the name suggests, single-use plastics are plastic packaging and products that are only used once or are intended to be used once.
This includes snack wrappers, disposable plastic cutlery, and your Keurig’s capsules. According to National Geographic, about 8 million tons of plastic waste makes its way from commercial buildings and homes all over the globe to the ocean. This plastic waste then winds up everywhere on the planet — even in the depths of the Marianas Trench and the peak of Mount Everest, places you would expect to go untouched by human pollution.
How much of this animal-killing waste is made up of the discarded K-Cups from your Keurig coffee machine? Apparently, there’s enough in landfills right now that we could line up every used K-Cup around the circumference of the Earth and give it a pollution belt cute enough to give Saturn a run for its money. With 25% of households in America owning a Keurig K Duo or its many cousins, you have over 75 million homes generating an average of 3 used coffee cups per person over 18 years old.
All that plastic ends up in the stomachs of animals, especially fish, and on our dinner plates. It’s a voluntarily signed death sentence all because we can’t be bothered to measure coffee grounds when we make coffee.
It’s not as if Keurig doesn’t know this. In fact, they’ve started manufacturing recyclable K-Cups in 2016 with the promise of replacing all their K-Cups with recyclable ones by 2020. But is the new line of K-Cups really all that different? Though they’re made from polypropylene #5, a fully recyclable plastic, there’s still the matter of disposing of the aluminum foils covering the top of each K-Cup.
Despite aluminum being one of the easiest metals to recycle, with 75% of all aluminum produced still being in use today, it still takes a lot of resources to produce it. Recycling aluminum isn’t easily done at home either. Recycling centers shred aluminum into chips before separating it from other materials like the plastic film on which Starbucks logos are printed on your K-Cup.
The processing that’s done to make aluminum serviceable again consumes energy that would have been better put to use elsewhere in the production chain. It’s better than disposal, obviously, but still isn’t the best option for keeping your Keurig K Duo environmentally friendly.
Let’s assume you want to have your cake and eat it, too, or rather, you want to have your coffee without having your Keurig K Duo wreck the planet. Yeah, not the best play on words. But bad analogies aside, how do you actually make a cup of coffee with your Keurig K Duo in a way that’s still eco-friendly?
Here are a few alternatives that you can try.
Eco-friendly Ways to Enjoy Your Coffee (With or Without a Keurig K-Duo)
Switch to Reusable K-Cups
Maybe you already have a Keurig K Duo and you don’t want to buy a more eco-friendly coffee machine because that means spending money again. Fair enough. But if you don’t want to lose money to Keurig anymore than you have to, you should consider using a reusable K-Cup.
Reusable K-Cups let you enjoy your Keurig machine without contributing to global warming because you can just clean it out and put in fresh coffee grounds. If you’re familiar with tea diffusers, it’s basically the same thing but for Keurig coffee machines.
One problem, though: It takes away from the convenience of the original K-Cup. Though they keep your Keurig usable, refillable K-Cups need to be cleaned out and refilled with each use, more or less eliminating the whole point about not having to manually make coffee with a K-Cup.
But if you don’t mind spending literally 30 extra seconds making your coffee for the sake of a noble cause, you can check out this guide to reusable K-Cups.
Try Actual Coffee Grounds
This is where the Keurig K Duo shines versus other Keurig coffee machines. The “duo” doesn’t just refer to how the Keurig K Duo lets you make single cups and whole carafes on one machine, but also to the fact that you can use Keurig’s signature disposable cups and actual coffee grounds.
Since you’re able to pick from two different options on how to make your coffee, the Keurig K Duo is the perfect alternative for coffee lovers who want to cut back on their use of single-use plastics while still having the option to use K-Cups when they’re in a pinch.
Besides, the Keurig K Duo lets you steep your coffee a bit longer if you need a little more caffeine than usual — a great feature if you’re anything like me who’s desensitized to normal coffee.
Not a fan of the size of the Keurig K Duo? The Keurig K Duo Plus packs all of its features in a slimmer, easy-to-store machine. You can find out the differences between the two here.
Use a French Press or a Vietnamese Phin Instead
There’s an elegant simplicity in using a French press or a Vietnamese phin to make your coffee. It has all the benefits of making a single cup of coffee that the K-Cup brings without the environmental damage or the cost of even buying a Keurig K Duo. They’re easy to clean coffee-making tools that make perfect coffee with each use.
The amount of effort needed to make coffee with a French press is minimal especially considering how great your coffee ends up tasting. If the French press process of making coffee is still too time-consuming for you, an even easier way is to use a Vietnamese phin.
The Vietnamese phin works more or less the same but with no steeping involved. Just place your coffee grounds on top of the filter and pour your hot water over it. Check out how it works here.
Having said all that, changing the way we make coffee isn’t all there is to making your Keurig K Duo habit more environmentally friendly. An essential part of the coffee-making process is the coffee itself. Coffee grounds generate a ton of waste due to our collective caffeine addictions. Learn how you can recycle and reuse your coffee grounds here.