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COFFEE TALK: Why I'm disappointed in TerraCycle


I love TerraCycle. Really. It’s one of the best sustainability outfits around, and the team is filled to the brim with great ideas. Unfortunately, deciding to help recycle single-use coffee pods isn’t one of them.

Nespresso  Coffee Capsules

Nespresso Coffee Capsules

A lot of what TerraCycle recycles—or upcycles— are products that have been around for ages: cigarettes, juice boxes and gum, to name just a few. It could be argued that all of these products are firmly entrenched in our urban lives, and won’t be going away anytime soon. When nobody took the lead on addressing these products as nuisance waste, TerraCycle stepped up and delivered, and should be commended for that.

But TerraCycle needs to be aware of the future too, or at least the present. Every year there is some new product designed to make our lives ever more convenient (code for unsustainable). This doesn’t mean, however, that we must embrace these products, as almost always new products like these are non-recyclable and simply add to our ongoing waste problems, which we already seem unable to tackle as it stands.

So-called products of convenience are the perfect opportunity for a sustainability outfit like TerraCycle to take a stand against companies like Keurig or Tassimo—two of the leading coffee pod makers—instead of accommodating unsustainability. Frankly, it isn’t going to help anyone— let alone the planet—if TerraCycle and the public keep finding ways to merely accommodate wasteful consumer products instead of deciding, as a whole, to not support them at all.

Tom Szaky

Tom Szaky

While I think the government should have strict sustainability standards placed on manufacturers, this isn’t likely to happen soon, if ever. Of course, companies should be held accountable for how much it costs to recycle its products, but I don’t believe they should have free reign from a materials standpoint in the first place. For now, the power to influence major companies comes almost solely from consumer sales. Don’t buy it, and it won’t be made. And while many consumers make poor product choices, it doesn’t mean that outfits like TerraCycle need to shrug their shoulders and follow suit.

I had the opportunity to chat with TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky about this subject in 2013, when the group announced its partnership with Progressive Waste Solutions. Tom, an amiable and very intelligent man, said it comes down to the public speaking with their wallets. He said that if myself, or anybody else for that matter, feel that it’s worth boycotting a specific product, than they should do so?

But what about TerraCycle? Do they not have a voice? I hate to think that such an excellent non-profit like TerraCycle is essentially giving the greenlight to those consumers who may have been on the fence about using coffee pods.

The large K-Cup recycling system costs about $140. That money would be better spent on nine pounds of actually fresh quality coffee, which along with the filter can be conveniently composted. Just sayin’.


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