Since Keurig’s K-Cup coffee system arrived on the market in the late ‘90s, single-serve coffee makers have exploded in popularity. In fiscal year 2013 alone, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, owner of the Keurig Company since 2006, sold more than $827 million worth of brewers and other accessories, more than double its sales just three years before.
While the convenience and variety afforded by single-serve coffee systems is celebrated by many, the appliance’s darker side—the mountains of unrecyclable waste that result from its use—is equally abhorred by environmentalists and others concerned about the impacts of on-demand coffee. To put this waste into perspective, John Sylvan, the system’s creator, has himself estimated that a single K-Cup machine can create ten times more waste than a conventional drip brewer, and in fact now notes regretting his invention.
The environmental cost of landfilling or incinerating all of that valuable plastic has been widely discussed, but one element which has received less attention is the loss of valuable coffee grounds, which if collected, could create millions of tons of nutrient rich compost. Rich in nitrogen (energy used by bacteria to break down food waste), coffee grounds are a valuable addition to a compost pile and can even be added directly to indoor plants and gardens, if done properly.
In 2013, roughly 10 billion individual K-Cup packs were sold. At about 2 tablespoons of ground coffee per K-Cup, we’re talking about 20 billion tablespoons, or more than 67 million gallons of waste coffee grounds every year! Yikes. That’s a lot of waste and a lot of valuable compost.
Fortunately, more and more sustainable alternatives have been popping up on the market that allow you to keep using your single-serve system (and enjoying that hot cup of coffee when you want it) while reducing plastic waste and capturing the used coffee grounds for compost.
Here are five greener single-serve alternatives worth checking out:
1. Reusable Filters: Keurig’s own reusable filter is a great option, but only if you have an older machine. Keurig does not make a reusable filter for its latest 2.0 model brewer. Another popular reusable filter is the Eko-Brew, but check their compatibility list to see if it will work with your machine. This single-piece system ranges from $9 for their classic plastic model to about $16 for a stainless steel model.
2. Recyclable K-Cups: Although Keurig says its K-Cups won’t be recyclable until 2020, New England favorite Dean’s Beans has launched a fully recyclable, #5 plastic K-Cup alternative, packed with their organic and fair trade coffee. A pack of 12 costs $8.99. Crazy Cups out of Brooklyn, New York, also sells a recyclable K-Cup, but it needs to be disassembled by the user. They run about $1.30 per cup. Before you order either of these options, check to see if #5 plastics are recyclable in your area.
3. Biodegradable and Compostable K-Cups: The Rogers Company offers OneCup, a K-Cup alternative made of 97 percent biodegradable materials filled with a variety of coffees. Canadian company Canterbury Coffee’s OneCoffee label is 99 percent compostable by weight in commercial composting facilities. Their goal is to get to 100 percent compostable and start selling in the U.S. Another Canadian company, Club Coffee, plans to launch fully compostable coffee pods that will be sold in the United States through other brands.
4. Coffee Pods: New Hampshire Coffee has designed a 100 percent compostable coffee pod system of its own. The pods look like oversized tea bags and can be used in New Hampshire Coffee’s own system or can be used in a Keurig-type system with the purchase of a Pod Holster. After brewing, the pods can be tossed into the compost with no disassembly, but they do come individually wrapped, so there is still some waste. Pods come in 18-count sleeves and cost $9. (The Pod Holster may not work with all brands of coffee makers.)
5. All-in-one K-Cup-free single-serve systems: If you don’t already own a Keurig system, there are several K-Cup-free systems that brew single-serve coffee on demand. Breville’s You Brew system, for example, allows you to brew one cup at a time or up to a 12-cup pot. The system has a holding tank for whole beans, which then get ground on demand for whatever size cup or pot you select. You Brew Systems cost between $230 and $250. Cuisinart makes a similar Coffee On Demand 12-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker using a reusable mesh filter for $99.95. These systems may seem like a big investment up front, but even the most conservative estimates out there show that K-Cup coffee costs two to five times as much as regular drip coffee. Then, of course, there’s always the reliable French press—there are several single-serve versions on the market these days.
There’s no question that on-demand coffee is a nice convenience, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment. Once you’ve made the switch, make sure to compost those grounds! Here’s a handy guide on various ways to compost and use coffee grounds. For once, you can have your coffee and even “eat it” too!
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
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