Why K-Cups Are Going To Kill Us

Why K-Cups Are Going To Kill Us October 5, 2015

By Jesse Viviano (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Jesse Viviano (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
Do you know what a K-cup is? How about a Keurig machine? Do you have one in your home or at your office? Even if you don’t use one yourself, you must have seen these around.

Keurig is an amazing machine that makes a perfect cup of coffee everytime in less than a minute. Just pop in a K-cup, pour in some water and hit the start button and out flows a steaming, fresh cup of coffee.

Originally designed for the office market in order to eliminate that troublesome problem of stale coffee in the breakroom coffee pot, Keurig (which means “fine choice” in Dutch) has become the ubiquitous “go to” product for coffee drinkers across the country (and tea and hot chocolate as well).

Having expanded far beyond the office market, one in three households now own a Keurig machine.

By User:MarkBuckawicki (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
By User:MarkBuckawicki (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
The inventor, a guy named John Sylvan, sold this brilliant innovation to Keurig Green Mountain brewing company in 1997 for $50,000. Since then, sales have gone through roof with the company’s revenue standing at $4.7 billion last year, most of that from the sale of those little coffee pods known as “K-Cups.”

The Atlantic Monthly did a great story on Keurig and K-Cups that you can find here. It summarizes the controversy over Keurig and offers details of both sides of the argument. Keurig defenders point out that the machine uses less energy than traditional drip coffeemakers and there is less waste (12-15% of coffee gets dumped from pots at the end of the day). While Keurig detractors cite the infamous statistic that the discarded pods taking up space in landfills could circle the earth 10.5 times (a number that has undoubtedly grown since it was first offered here in a Mother Jones article in 2014.

But really, its not K-Cups, per se, that are the problem. The problem is much deeper.

The popularity of Keurig is directly related to the one of the seemingly most intractable problems that plagues the first world – the unsustainable pace with which we are trying to live our lives.

We talk a lot about the unsustainable nature of our habits. Much lip service is given to “sustainable” growth (an oxymoron, in my opinion) and to living our lives more “sustainably.” In most instances the focus is on how to reduce our environmental impact.

The problem lies less with the K-Cups and more with what they represent. Consumerism and convenience are at the heart of many of our most pernicious environmental habits.

While it is true that a certain level of consumption is an inherent part of the human condition, the lifestyles of most people in the first world have moved far beyond the necessity of consumption to the obsession of consumerism. Ironically, in a world when we have less time to spend in community and tending to the human relationships that yield the most satisfaction – we seek pleasure in the dis-ordered notion that things can fill our deepest needs.

We have built lives that are unsustainable – not only in our environmental impact but in the impossible pace that prompts us to seek refuge in convenience, consumerism, and K-Cups.

If we took the time to brew a pot of coffee and share it with our family in the morning instead of rushing off in different directions eating breakfast as we drive to work.

If we took the time to steep a pot of tea at the office and sit together with colleagues to build relationships beyond the next deadline or project.

If we slowed down and savored our caffeinated beverage of choice and recognized it as an avenue for building relationships and community rather than simply a vehicle for stimulation.

Perhaps, if took this time to be in relationship, we could use it to wrest open a small space to begin to question the dis-ordered logic of over-work, over-commitment, and overwhelming over-participation that shapes too many of our lives today.

Too many of us are squandering the blessings of our lives that are remarkably in our reach. How many missed opportunities to read a book out loud with our children, or take a walk or a hike with a friend, or share a cup of tea with a neighbor do we miss out on in our daily lives?

The unsustainable pace of our lives is not only unhealthy for us personally, unhealthy for our relationship with the planet, it is also a rejection of what is sacred in our world.

When we are able to recover our right relationship with our neighbors, with our family, with our friends. When we are able to restructure our work spaces and job requirements in ways that honor human dignity. When we are able to recognize what is really valuable in this life – only then will we be able to recover sustainable lives lived at a sustainable and enjoyable pace.

And then, no one will want a K-Cup anymore.

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