Keurig agrees to settle coffee pod recyclability suit

Keurig Green Mountain has reached a tentative class-action settlement with a consumer who sued the company over its claims about the recyclable nature of its coffee pods.

The lawsuit, which was initially filed in November 2018 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that the company is misleading consumers by claiming that its polypropylene K-Cups are recyclable.

The terms of the agreement, which is the second significant settlement in recent months involving brand owners’ recyclability claims, have not been made public.

Kathleen Smith of Lafayette, California sued Keurig Green Mountain, alleging that Keurig instructed consumers to remove the metal foil from used K-Cups, compost or discard the coffee grounds, and then recycle the cup and filter, while also advising consumers to “check locally for empty cup recycling.”

However, the lawsuit alleges that the cups pass through sorting screens at materials recovery facilities (MRFs) due to their small size – particularly after being compacted in collection trucks – and are discarded. The suit alleges that if the cups are not properly disposed of at the MRF, they can contaminate other recyclables. Even if they are sorted, baled, and sold to a plastics recycler, the residual metal and food contaminants render them unrecyclable or difficult to recycle, according to the lawsuit, which also highlighted a dearth of markets for even uncontaminated K-Cups.

Keurig moved to dismiss the case, citing a variety of reasons. Keurig claimed, among other things, that the plaintiff failed to distinguish between the company’s original coffee pods and its recyclable polypropylene pods, which were introduced in 2017 following testing with recycling companies to ensure their recyclability. K-Cup recycling trials were conducted by KW Plastics and Merlin Plastics.

Keurig also argued in its motion to dismiss that its marketing language complies with the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides, which are referenced in California statutes, because Keurig informs consumers that the cups are not recyclable in all communities and advises them to “check locally.”

In June 2019, Keurig suffered a legal setback when Judge Haywood Gilliam, Jr. refused to dismiss the case. And in September 2020, Gilliam approved an order certifying the plaintiff’s class, despite Keurig’s opposition. According to his ruling, the class includes “all persons who purchased the Products in California for personal, family, or household purposes (directly or through an agent) from June 8, 2016 to the present.”

In 2018, Keurig Green Mountain acquired the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. The company is now a subsidiary of Keurig Dr Pepper, one of North America’s largest beverage companies.

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