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Time to make your caffeine habit greener

Time to make your caffeine habit greener

Posting in Environment

Compostable cups are great and all, but the trend toward single-brew machines is one that seems counter to corporate sustainability missions.

After spending another two-and-a-half hours this morning shoveling my ridiculously long driveway (my husband does snowblower duty), I slunk inside for caffeine and to figure out which of the 10 or so posts I have brewing I should write about. This one seemed logical in my pre-coffee state: Food service company Repurpose Compostables has come out this week with what it is claiming is the world's greenest coffee cup.

The product, called One Cup, is insulated, so supposedly you won't need one of those sleeves to keep your fingers from getting burned or at least unpleasantly hot. The material they are made out of, planet materials using the company's Ingeo resin, is compostable over a period of 90 days. What's more, the company says the process used to manufacture them was also refined with an eye to environmental sensitivity (so, in theory, fewer carbon dioxide emissions will be used to create them than a traditional cup).

Says Repurpose Compostables CEO Lauren Gropper:

"Our new insulated cup with Ingeo-based lining eliminates the need for double cupping, which we have found in speaking to vendors is a hidden cost that people don't realize. The One Cup also eliminates the need for a sleeve, another wasteful product associated with hot beverages. In many cases, vendors are using four individual pieces. FInally, a one-product solution exists that is also compostable, comes from renewable resources and is affordable."

I chose this topic because pretty much every company supports their employees' coffee habits with a break room where coffee is brewed. Some of you supply mugs to support this habit, others supply disposable cups of some sort. So, if you've got the ability to support composting, these new cups might be worth a look.

But I've also noticed that more and more businesses are opting for the individual brew machines -- especially the K-cups from Keurig -- so even as we attack the sustainability factor for the vessel we drink the coffee from, I wonder about the sustainability of that trend. All those little plastic one-cup brew containers that are being tossed into the garbage. WIth that in mind, I wandered over to the Keurig site and was surprised to hear that it is owned by Green Mountain Coffee, which is definitely a green business leader. Unfortunately, it is in a bit of a dilemma when it comes to the K-cups. The simple fact is, they can't be recycled, and as more and more companies start opting for their convenience, it is creating a whole new wastestream associated with coffee. Here is an excerpt from the company's corporate social responsibility statement:

"As the single cup coffee market and our Keurig brewing systems grow in popularity, we understand that the impact of the K-Cup Portion Pack waste stream is one of our most significant environmental challenges. The K-Cup package is made up of three main elements -- the cup itself, a filter and an aluminum foil top. The polyethylene coating of the foil - as well as the process of heat-sealing the various elements - makes recycling difficult.

However, this packaging approach prevents oxygen, light and moisture from degrading the coffee. Without the barrier the packaging materials provide, we could not maintain the quality and freshness of the coffee, which means that all the resources and effort put into growing and roasting great coffee would be wasted."

The site goes on to say that Keurig is actively exploring new, sustainable packaging options. But until it comes out with something that can be composted or recycled, this is something to consider if your company supports its employees' caffeine habits. And, if you have already converted: Is convenience trumping sustainability in your coffee breakroom? This one will definitely not be easy.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure