Published June 21, 2021

A white cup is sitting on the ground.

Responsible business owners who want to make ethical choices for their company have a dilemma to solve when it comes to choosing the right type of K-Cups® for their coffee line. Should they opt for compostable or recyclable K-Cups®? And which choice is better for the environment?

It can be confusing to determine the differences between a compostable coffee pod versus a recyclable coffee pod. On one hand, the idea of a compostable K-Cup® that simply breaks down after the bio-degradation process seems straightforward. But compostable coffee pods actually have quite a few flaws that seriously impact their environmental footprint. The other choice is to invest in recyclable coffee pods, which can be broken down and reused before ending their lifecycle.

Below, we’ll look more deeply into the differences between compostable K-Cups® and recyclable K-Cups® as well as how to make the choice between them that’s best for your company. Use the navigational links below to jump to a section you’d like to learn more about, or simply continue reading for a full overview and breakdown of these two types of K-Cups®.

How compostable K-Cups® work

Compostable K-Cups® are designed to be broken down completely, instead of staying intact. Sounds great, right? Well, you can’t just throw your compostable K-Cup® into your backyard composting pile and call it a day. Consumers might assume that their compostable coffee pod can just go into their own home or community composting system, but the process to break the pods down is actually much more involved.

A white cup is sitting on the ground.

Compostable pods must be processed in an industrial composting facility. Plus, it requires a very specific combination of heat and materials for proper composting which uses lots of energy. Mainstream composting facilities that can process these compostable coffee pods are extremely hard to come by. There are less than 100 industrial composting facilities in the United States that can handle these types of coffee pods on a large scale.

There aren’t any compostable K-Cups® on the market today that are approved for backyard composting. Instead, you’ll always get the caveat that in order to be composted, the used coffee pods will need to go to an industrial center for processing. That’s not exactly convenient for the average consumer who may live far away from one of these facilities.

A white cup is sitting on the ground.

The inconvenience of searching out one of these official facilities may mean consumers simply throw them out in their regular trash, so the pods end up in a landfill. No harm, no foul though, right? They’re compostable so they’ll just break down!

Well, it turns out that even though those coffee pods will break down over time, it’s an extremely slow process. The bio-degradation process also needs oxygen, light, and heat to happen. Those three elements aren’t guaranteed in a landfill, meaning that the coffee pods will take a long time to disintegrate., which most studies find this process can take anywhere from 30-100 years if it breaks down at all.

What does this mean for you, as a business owner? If you’d like to minimize your impact on the environment, choosing recyclable K-Cups® offers a better solution for your customers. Recyclable K-Cups® can be reused instead of immediately reaching the end of their lifecycle. Are K-Cups® really recyclable? Yes! Keep reading to find out more about how recyclable K-Cups® from Intelligent Blends work.

How recyclable K-Cups® work

Recyclable coffee pods are a single-serving coffee option made from packaging that can be reused. K-Cups® from Intelligent Blends can be used with Keurigs and other compatible coffee makers.

At Intelligent Blends, we know that sustainability matters to you and your customers. So, are coffee pods recyclable? Yes, but they have to be made from a special material in order to be reused.

Intelligent Blends’ K-Cups® are made from a polymer plastic known as polypropylene #5. This polymer plastic is particularly special because it’s a highly sought-after material that’s widely accepted at recycling centers across the U.S. For consumers, this makes it easy to recycle the pods after use instead of searching out an industrial facility.

The clear winner for your coffee business: recyclable K-Cups®

Are you curious about how compostable pods stack up to recyclable pods? Below, we’ve compared compostable K-Cups® and recyclable K-Cups®.

Why compostable pods don’t make sense:

  • 2-day shelf life. Once the compostable pods are opened, the coffee goes stale after one day. This means that consumers might not get the freshest-tasting coffee if they don’t use their pod right away.
  • Special processing needs. To be properly composted, compostable coffee pods must be sent to industrial composting facilities. There are less than 100 facilities that meet this criteria in the U.S. Consumers may not have convenient access to one of these facilities. Instead of looking up how to dispose of compostable coffee pods, they may just throw them away instead.
  • Slow bio-degradation process. When composted materials go into landfills it takes them a long time to biodegrade. Up to 100 years is even possible.
  • Non-recyclable plastic pouch packaging. Sadly, compostable K-Cups® are packaged in non-recyclable plastic pouches. And remember, once opened, the coffee has 24 hours before it gets stale and won’t taste fresh.
A white cup is sitting on the ground.

As you can see, compostable coffee pods have quite a few drawbacks.

Recyclable K-Cups® solve sustainability pain points for beverage businesses:

  • Mainstream recycling infrastructure. There are already half a billion pounds of PP #5 recycled each year, so the United States recycling infrastructure is already in place and processing this material on a large, mainstream scale.
  • High recycling facility acceptance rate. 61% of recycling programs accept propylene #5.
  • Maximized extraction and freshness. Recyclable K-Cups® from Intelligent Blends are efficient, beverage-safe, and lightweight. We use an innovative K-Cup® design that maximizes the coffee extraction process and use a patent-pending technology to seal in freshness. This means that customers get the best possible flavor every single time.
  • Lower environmental impact. Recyclable K-Cups® have a lower environmental impact compared to other packing materials like paper, metal, or glass that put out five times the amount of waste and use four times the amount of carbon dioxide, six times the amount of water, and two times the amount of energy.
A white cup is sitting on the ground.

Not only are the recyclable K-Cups® better for the environment, but the cartons they’re shipped in are also recyclable. We also prioritize sustainability in our manufacturing processes.

Here are the principles that guide our manufacturing at Intelligent Blends:

  • Ensuring consistent quality
  • Responsiveness to customers demands
  • Increasing production capacity and capabilities
  • Implementing technology-driven systems
  • Enhancing our quality and efficiency through automation
  • Providing a state of the art working environment with a safety-first approach

How to recycle a K-Cup® properly

The SCS Certified recyclable K-Cups® are made entirely from #5 polypropylene as we mentioned above. Polypropylene is accepted by 61% of recycling programs in the United States. Intelligent Blends’ coffee pods have an easy-peel tab lid, so sorting and recycling the pods is both easy and convenient.

A white cup is sitting on the ground.

Follow the steps below to recycle your K-Cup®:

  1. Cool: Allow your K-Cup® to cool down after you’ve made your coffee.
  2. Peel: Peel off the top of the lid. You can compost the coffee grounds into your home composting system or discard them into your garbage.
  3. Recycle: Dispose of your K-Cup® where #5 plastics are accepted.

Recyclable K-Cups® from Intelligent Blends is a sustainable decision that can help lessen your carbon footprint. Plus, the simplicity of the recycling process means nobody has to find an industrial facility to ensure the K-Cup® doesn’t go to waste, languishing in a landfill for years before finally breaking down.

Add recyclable K-Cups® to your brand’s coffee line

Not only are recyclable K-Cups® an ethical way to make your business more sustainable, but they’re also smart for your bottom line. Offering custom K-Cups® in your brand’s line of private label coffee delivers an eco-friendly product that’s customizable to your exact specifications. Plus, with so many people already used to using K-Cups®, it’s a great way to tap into that market and compete with other brands. Your customers will appreciate the convenient option for consuming their coffee, especially if they’re already a fan of your blends.

When it comes to your business, it’s critical to avoid settling for packaging that’s just ‘œokay.’ This is why we offer cost-efficient products designed to be a turnkey solution. We partner with you to provide a product optimized for brewing that doesn’t hurt your bottom line. Plus, we ship anywhere with fulfillment centers all over the United States.

Contact us today to learn more about Intelligent Blends’ recyclable coffee pod options as well as our other services and products. You can learn more about what we pack and how a partnership with us can help your business reach new heights.