In 1992, John Sylvan faced a problem. The 20-something aspiring entrepreneur was ingesting coffee that barely passed as palatable. Mr. Sylvan knew there had to be a better alternative than brewing a whole pot of cheap, bland coffee. Why can't office workers get a decent single serving of coffee without spending way too much money at a cafe?
Sylvan found his solution in the K-Cup.
These single-serve brewing pods of coffee have been wildly successful. Though they were originally designed for offices, almost 1 in 3 American homes now owns a pod-based coffee maker. Keurig Green Mountain bought and produces Sylvan’s invention. The company made $4.7 billion in revenue in 2014. The company even has plans to expand the empire to cold beverages, including Coca-Cola products.
But as The Atlantic reported 13 years later, the inventor of K-Cups regrets ever dreaming up his invention. Sylvan says he “feels bad” for the environmental impact of his creation. In 2014, there were enough K-Cups being tossed in landfills to wrap around the world an estimated 12 times.
There has been a growing backlash against Keurig Green Mountain for making the pods difficult to recycle and non-biodegradable. The cups are made of plastic #7, which is only recycled in a handful of Canadian cities. Though Keurig Green Mountain has pledged to make a fully recyclable version by 2020, Sylvan severely doubts the cups will ever be recyclable, thanks to four specialized layers of plastic.
In response to the waste created by K-Cups, Egg Studios uploaded a video online that imagines a K-Cup apocalypse. The video calls Keurig's pods wasteful, environmentally irresponsible, unsustainable, and non-recyclable. The video ends with a cry to “Kill the K-Cup, before it kills our planet.” The video went on to inspire the social-media campaign to #KillTheKCup.
While Sylvan says he did not foresee the problem he helped create, he knew the pods would sell. “It's like a cigarette for coffee," he told The Atlantic. And now the world appears to be hooked.