Finding a Single Solution
When it comes to sustainability, the single-serve game is the largest contributor to waste. Whether it’s the single-use paper cup and lid, the single-serve PET plastic cold brew bottle, or the disposable K-cup, we have a singular problem, the packaging. The deeper you dive into the issue, the more complex it becomes and the harder the right decisions get.
Cold-brew iced coffee, for instance, is in a tight spot. If you’re creating a purist product, then you likely don’t want to apply heat in the pasteurization process (to avoid affecting the flavor of the end-product). The only way to avoid heat is to use HPP (high-pressure pasteurization), which can only be done on plastic bottles. You are left with a tough choice: compromising flavor or compromising the environment.
Keurig and Nespresso have amassed a fortune by creating brewing systems with single-serve cups or pods that operate in a closed system. They have been the easiest to use, as well as the most prevalent on grocery store shelves and hotel rooms. “Coffee pods are one of the best examples of unnecessary single-use plastics that are polluting our planet,” says John Hocevar, the campaign director of Greenpeace USA. Hocevar continued, “Within ten years, enough K-Cups were sold that if placed end-to-end, they would circle the globe ten times.”
In the meantime, we see innovative solutions arising like the single-serve “tea bag” solution first introduced by Folgers but truly perfected recently by Steeped Coffee, led by Josh Wilbur. Josh introduced a series of solutions that contributed to a greener product and a fresher coffee. Some of these details include ultrasonically welding all seams to avoid toxic glues and allow for fewer seams that create better brewing saturation. Their full-emersion filters are unique and allow for water to enter the coffee for brewing and allow dissolved solids to exit. “We worked with Q graders and barista champions to work on every individual component and detail to make the difference,” adds Josh.
NuZee is another player in this space, founded by Masa Higashida, a native of Japan. Mr. Higashida was also driven by this idea that brewing more coffee than you needed was wasteful, and he wanted to introduce a better way of brewing while reducing waste. NuZee started with their fold open pour-over and then later added a “teabag” packaging option as well.
Both Steeped and Nuzee’s bags are 100% commercially compostable. After talking with these two sustainably focused companies, it was a bit surprising when I saw Planetary Design introduce the new Trestle adaptor, which was created to allow AeroPress users to brew a k-cup by hand. To me, creating a plastic adaptor to a brewer that previously produced little waste seems both counter-productive and late in the game. I posed this thought to Jess Nepstad of Planetary Design, and he responded, “If you are headed to the mountains on a short two- or three-day trip, having 4 or 5 refillable K-Cups that you can easily make coffee with your AeroPress is much easier.”
The compostable teabag solution has the greatest potential for sustainability, as it requires no equipment and no additional measurement or skill. All you need is water. This seems like a much better way to brew coffee in the mountains and a better way to support an idea of a smaller footprint without compromising quality.