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Recycled and Recyclable - Recycling Infrastructure

April 15, 2016

We recognize that even with a recyclable K-Cup® pod, historically, recycling facility infrastructure has been challenged to sort and capture small items like K-Cup® pods. So for some time now we have been working to better understand the current state and trends in the recycling industry and are collaborating with plastics experts and the recycling community to ensure our new recyclable pods can successfully make the journey from home recycling bin to a plastics reclaimer where they can have a second life. This work is critical since the 600+ materials recovery facilities (MRFs) in the U.S. and Canada do not use standardized equipment, resulting in variation in what materials are accepted and how they are sorted.  

Our first task was to understand whether or not polypropylene K-Cup® pods could be sorted with the existing recycling infrastructure. So in 2015, we partnered with plastics and recycling experts to conduct tests at material recovery facilities (MRFs) and plastics reclaimers to understand how recyclable K-Cup® pods flow through the current recycling process.  
im Frey, Co-Founder and CEO, Resource Recycling Systems"We've been working closely with the Keurig team, including their product design team, to see what their existing package does in a recycling system and what variations could do.

Keurig has a smart, committed, disciplined, long term action plan to migrate all of their K-Cup pods into the polypropylene format. They're making good design decisions.

It will be important to demonstrate to the 500 to 600 recycling facilities that this is part of the recycling system of the future. It’s not just K-Cup pods. There are lots of small plastic items from other companies. The challenge is to form the right public private partnerships with recycling facilities and communities across the country to transform their approach. It will be a five or more year commitment to make this mainstream in the recycling system.

What's great about Keurig is they are making a commitment to help solve that."
Jim Frey, Co-Founder and CEO, Resource Recycling Systems
We collaborated with Resource Recycling Systems (RRS) to run tests in three different U.S. communities.  We chose medium-to-large size MRFs representing the majority of the volume of recyclables processed. Our tests started with thousands of recyclable K-Cup® pods in various configurations – white and dark cups, single and stacked cups, and intact and separated cups.  We mixed the cups with about 70 tons of incoming recyclable material at each of the three MRFs, and ran the equipment for about two hours in order to process all 70 tons. 
Preparing for recycling facility tests: K-Cup® polypropylene pods in different configurations
Preparing for recycling facility tests: K-Cup® polypropylene pods in different configurations
Among other findings, the tests confirmed that the majority of the test pods made it past initial material screens and were available to be properly sorted and processed. Watch Monique Oxender, Keurig's Chief Sustainability Officer, and the team testing at a MRF in the banner video above.

This year, we are conducting more tests with help from RRS (already completed at two MRFs) to gather additional data. With a goal of optimizing the capture of small polypropylene items, we are using RFID chips affixed to each pod to track exactly where each and every pod goes after entering the MRF. We are sharing our findings with plastics experts, recyclers, manufacturers and brands interested in boosting the collection and recovery of small items and polypropylene. 

The current recycling industry infrastructure was established to collect plastic (PET) bottles and aluminum cans primarily, and adapting that infrastructure to handle new package formats will take time. Change in the system must be supported by a network of players from the value chain of products and product recycling. We have joined several of the world’s largest consumer goods companies and retailers in the Closed Loop Fund (CLF), a social impact fund investing $100 million to increase the recycling of products and packaging in the U.S. We are investing $5 million over five years to the fund and participating on the Fund’s Advisory Board as an initial investor. Recently, CLF announced the funding and development of a plastics recovery facility in Baltimore, Maryland that will increase #3-7 plastic recovery rates and divert an anticipated 650k+ tons from landfills over the next ten years.  

In addition to our work to improve small item recoverability, we also offer a take-back program for responsible disposal of our hot and cold system pods, in areas where there is no municipal recycling. 
  • Our K-Cup® pods collected from Van Houtte Coffee Services Inc. and our Keurig Authorized Distributors customers are sent to waste-to-energy facilities and cement kilns where they can be used as alternative fuel sources.
  • We also offer a take-back program for our Kold pods to enable recycling.
Tags: Partnerships Keurig®