Showdown brewing between Toronto, Keurig over pod recyclability

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Showdown brewing between Toronto, Keurig over pod recyclability
WATCH ABOVE: The coffee maker says its K-Cups will be 100 per cent recyclable by the end of 2018, but the City of Toronto still won't put the cups on the list of approved recyclables. Mark Carcasole reports – Apr 26, 2018

Those who have coffee pod machines love them. Pop in a pod, clamp down the lid, press a button and it’s a quick, easy and reliable way to get that morning fix as you head out the door.

It’s a major convenience, but a major – and expensive – inconvenience to the recycling stream when one of them ends up in your recycling bin, City of Toronto officials say.

“The organic component, coffee grinds within the coffee pod, would in fact significantly contribute to contamination,” said Vincent Sferrazza, Director of Policy, Planning & Support for Toronto’s Waste Management department.

“That would in fact render some of the other material in the blue bin waste. It’d be contaminated.”

With about 25 per cent of items in the city’s recycling haul not belonging there, contaminating and diverting plenty of recyclable items to landfill, the city doesn’t want to take any further chances.

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Keurig insists its full line of pods will be recyclable by the end of the year. The company claims they’ve been successfully tested at multiple facilities around Canada.

“We know that our pods can be recycled,” wrote Keurig Canada spokesperson Cynthia Shank in an email to Global News.

“In tests conducted in multiple Canadian recycling facilities, including three facilities in Ontario, we found that on average, 90 per cent made it to the container line. This is a success rate comparable to that of other commonly recycled plastic containers.”

Though it does take some work to get them there.

To make a K-Cup recyclable, Keurig asks customers to wait for a pod to cool off after brewing, then peel off the foil top, and if they’re not already encased in a filter bag, clean the grinds out of the cup before tossing it in the blue bin. If there is a filter bag, the company said it does not need to be removed.

Toronto recycling officials said that process could very well work, but they’re not convinced anybody is going to bother.

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“We have done some studies…with Ipsos, and the survey indicated that in fact a good portion of coffee users would in fact not be removing the coffee grounds and removing the lid and cleaning the coffee pod so that it is recyclable,” Sferrazza said.

That is just one of several reasons why the department doesn’t appear set to allow coffee pods, Keurig or otherwise, into the recycling stream.

Sferrazza said the city just recently completed a one-week audit at its material recovery facility and found that over 97 per cent of coffee pods that came through still had coffee grinds inside.

Officials also worry that allowing Keurig cups in the blue bin will leave residents confused, leading to them accidentally throwing in pods from other brands that are not recyclable.

Keurig trusts customers will do the right thing; if they’re allowed to.

“Keurig – along with a number of other manufacturers – are creating products the public demands. Many of us have invested millions of dollars to update packaging and production lines to accommodate recyclability because that’s what consumers expect,” wrote Shank.

“Consumers want to have a positive impact on the environment, and by including pods in the blue bin, the city of Toronto will give them the opportunity to do so.”

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Keurig’s is one of several requests the city has received from companies looking to add their products to the recycling program. Waste Management wants those companies to fund all testing and any added costs once a product is ruled safe for recycling so that taxpayers are not on the hook.

“As a result of contamination the city is at risk of (losing) over $9 million as a result of lost revenue and additional processing costs,” Sferrazza said.

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