If anyone would brew his morning joe using K-Cups, you'd think it would be the inventor of the K-Cup himself. But John Sylvan, whose single-serve pods revolutionized the coffee landscape, sticks with making coffee the old-fashioned way.
"I don't have [pods]. They're kind of expensive to use," John Sylvan tells James Hamblin, writing for The Atlantic. "Plus it's not like drip coffee is tough to make."
But besides being steeper in cost, the plastic-and-foil pods that made up most of Keurig Green Mountain's $4.7 billion in revenue last year have been called out for being environmentally unfriendly. According to a 2014 article in Mother Jones, Green Mountain made 8.3 billion of the non-biodegradeable, mostly non-recyclable K-Cups in 2013 — "enough to wrap around the equator 10.5 times."
"I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it," Sylvan admits to Hamblin about his invention.
The Green Mountain K-Cups' lack of, well, green-ness has led to environmental advocate backlash: A 2010 New York Times article said Green Mountain's sales growth, boosted by the K-Cup, ran "counter to its reputation" as an "eco-friendly" company; more recently, a Canadian production company created a "Kill the K-Cup" video that went viral on YouTube.
Keurig promised in its 2014 Sustainability Report that by the year 2020, "100% of K-Cup packs will be recyclable." But that's five years away — and Green Mountain's competitors are already using reusable, biodegradable pods. (The company's chief sustainability officer tells Hamblin, "I gotta be honest with you, we're not happy with where we are, either.")
Sylvan, who sold his share of the company in 1997 for $50,000, says he has come up with a "much better way" of packaging and transporting the coffee, but that the powers-that-be at Keurig "don't want to listen."
(Someday you'll be able to make Coke via something similar to a K-Cup.)