A Canadian coffee company is working to make single-serve brewing better for the environment.
Canterbury Coffee Corp., a specialty coffee roaster based in Richmond, British Columbia, says it has developed a compostable and biodegradable equivalent product to Keurig Inc.'s K-Cup.
Canterbury's OneCoffee version of a K-cup is a "trifecta of sustainability," senior marketing manager Derek Perkins said in a phone interview.
The original K-Cup is a trademark of single-serve coffee giant Keurig Inc. of Reading, Mass.
Canterbury's single-serve cup is made with 40 percent less plastic — it doesn't have a hard shell like traditional K-Cups — and the hard plastic ring uses a support structure that will compost in an anaerobic environment.
Canterbury lauched the compostable, biodegradable cups as part of its new organic, single-serve coffee, branded OneCoffee. The coffee itself is fair trade and organic, and the entire product is packaged in a paperboard box with zero-carbon offsets, Perkins said.
There are "literally billions of these traditional K-Cups in landfills already," he said.
The OneCoffee cup, however, is made of PLA-based resin from DaniMer Scientific LLC. The resin itself meets ASTM degradability standards and is "OK-compost" certified by AIB-Vincotte International SA, according to Bainbridge, Ga,-based DaniMer.
The cups are assembled and filled in-house by Canterbury. Perkins would not disclose the company's suppliers.
According to Canterbury, the cup's entire structure is about 92 percent biodegradable. The only exception is the filter, made with a nylon weave to withstand the brewing process.
The company is hoping to make the filter mesh with a biodegradable nylon alternative, like polyethylene furanoate, in the near future, Perkins said.
The company is also searching for a biodegradable alternative to the plastic aromatic overwrap the cups are packaged in, he said.
In the next few years, the OneCoffee cup will be 98 percent biodegradable, he said.
"Look at how far things have come even in the last five years in bioplastics," he said. "There have been some amazing things that we didn't even think possible. I'm hopeful."
In the last year, single-cup brewers have exploded in popularity. About 13 percent of Americans drank coffee made in a single-cup brewer yesterday, up from 4 percent in 2010, according to data from the National Coffee Association. About 12 percent of Americans own a single-cup brewer, according to the same study.
Despite their growing popularity, K-Cups struggle with sustainability.
The cups, made from a combination of plastic, paper, metal and organic material (coffee or tea), aren't recyclable in a typical waste stream.
Keurig, a subsidiary of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc., has been searching for a way to combat claims of unsustainability. In 2011, the company started a pilot-scale take-back program for corporate customers, where coffee grounds are sent to a compost facility and the rest of the materials incinerated in a waste-to-energy plant. The company also sells a refillable K-Cup filter.
But K-Cups are convenient, a feature Canterbury tried to harness when designing its OneCoffee brand.
"We wanted it to be really easy for people — just throw it in your garbage and not worry about it," Perkins said.
Consumers don't have to clean or disassemble the cups, just throw them away. The cups will break down in an industrial composter — the first step for most garbage collected in Canada's municipal waste streams — or in a regular landfill environment, Perkins said.
The cups degrade in an anaerobic environment; they don't need to be exposed to sunlight or air, just moisture, he added.
How long the cup will take to break down depends on how the product is treated. The longer it spends in an industrial compacter, the faster it will break down, Perkins said.
The cups are not certified as OK to compost at home — it wouldn't be a great idea to throw them in your garden or backyard composter, because the filter wouldn't biodegrade, Perkins said.
The OneCoffee launched in Canada earlier this month. Canterbury has been fielding lots of calls from companies looking to carry the product in their stories, he said. The product appeals to specialty grocery chains, such as Whole Foods Market Inc. and Trader Joe's, that are wary of the waste caused by traditional K-Cups, he added.
OneCoffee isn't currently available in the U.S., but the product does meet the stricter "Green Guide" requirements, Perkins said.
Green Guides, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, regulates the types of environmental claims a company can make about its products. Marketers must clarify if a product cannot be composted at home. To claim a product is bio¬degradable, a firm must prove that it can break down and return to nature within a year. A product cannot make unqualified claims of degradability if it's destined for a landfill, incinerator or recycling center, according to FTC.
Because California has strict restrictions on products claiming biodegradability, the product might have to be advertised as compostable instead of biodegradable in that state, Perkins said.
Canterbury Coffee may have the first biodegradable single- serve cup, but other companies have also developed sustainable single-serve coffee.
Swiss Coffee Co. AG began selling single-serve coffee in a compostable plastic capsule for its Beanarella brewer in 2012. The injection molded capsules, available in Switzerland, are made with a certified biodegradable and compostable resin from BASF SE.
The single-serve brewing system — a coffee capsule and aroma-tight outer package — are made with BASF's Ecovio resin. The product "fulfills the demanding requirements for protecting the product and brewing coffee in high-pressure coffee machines, yet may still be composted," according to a BASF news release.
Sustainable single-serve coffee is an ongoing trend. You'll see more and more sustainable versions of the single-serve cup coming into the market, Perkins said.
People are concerned about the waste created by single-serve cups; waste is probably the biggest barrier and biggest obstacle to purchasing a compatible brewer, he said. Products like OneCoffee give consumers the opportunity for a nice indulgence without a detrimental impact, according to Perkins.
"I think at some point it's going to become the standard that there's an efficient or sustainable package as often as possible," he said.