I could have walked to the hairdresser’s this morning. It’s only ten blocks in our small city. The cold (−14° C) wasn’t a factor; it takes a lot of weather to phase prairie people. We know how to dress for cold. Sure, a one kilometre walk each way is great exercise. Did I want to squish my new hair cut under a head band or a toque, though? Maybe not. So I drove. For convenience.
Convenience is bad for the environment. Think of diapers, disposable dishware, pencils we don’t have to sharpen, pens that don’t need refills, and packaged soaked cloths to clean the floor. Consider as well single-serve coffee capsules, or pods, for single-serve brewers. No large coffee maker, no grounds, no drips, no mess. So convenient. And, people who use them tell me, you get a great cup of coffee. But is the convenience of those single-serve pods worth all the garbage?
I have never been able to understand the popularity of these machines in an age of environmental consciousness. They decorate many a kitchen counter in home and office. Imagine the accumulated waste! How many cups of coffee per day for each person, multiplied by the number of people in the office or home, multiplied by the number of offices or homes. No wonder that discarded K-cups, 8.3 billion in 2013 (Keurig only, not counting other brands), could circle the globe almost 11 times (author Murray Carpenter did the math in Caffeinated, referenced in Macleans by Rosemary Counter, “Pop people, rise up,” February 2, 2015). I feel vindicated. No one else I know seems to be worried about it.
Make no mistake—I am no environmental saint. My sins add up, and I confess them here :
· I still cave to Iced Cappucinos, despite the one-use container (technically recyclable).
· I don’t compost (yet, I tell myself).
· We don’t have solar panels on our home.
· We have a large, older home, that requires a lot of energy to heat.
· I shower daily—longer and hotter than they would need to be.
· When menstrual cups were touted as an answer to the waste from sanitary napkins, I swore I would be the last person to use them. I drew my line in the sand right there.
· I enjoy packaged wet cloths for the floor.
· I don’t plant a garden any more and yet.
Over the years, however, I have tried to do my tiny bit for the environment. Think globally, act locally, to borrow the social justice mantra. Serious environmentalists might scoff at my minimal efforts; still, I do manage a few actions that at least don’t make the situation worse.
· I use bins and cloth bags for groceries.
· We recycle.
· I keep my vegetables loose in the grocery cart and out of one-use plastic bags, whenever I can.
· I take a travel mug to meetings and on trips.
· I purchased a water bottle with a filter to avoid plastic water bottles on our last trip.
· I used cloth diapers for all three children.
· I stop the car for trains and road-construction queues.
· I reserve disposable dishware at home for gatherings of more than thirty people. When my fanatical side has clawed through the barriers of both convenience and difference, I have taken my own dishware along to functions, even to Taste of Manitoba years ago.
· I very seldom purchase single-serve prepared food.
· I purchase paper towels and toilet paper made from recycled paper.
· I purchase as much organic produce and products as availability and my budget allow.
So given my exposed vascillation on environmental action, why do coffee pods bother me so much? Companies, just as much as individuals, I feel, have a respsonsibility to contribute to an environmental solution, not to the problem. Single-serve pods create garbage. Recycling for those pods that can be recycled is messy and labour-intensive. Why put something on the market that doesn’t consider the environmental impact? Why encourage people to create more garbage? The obvious answer, to make money, just doesn’t cut it. K-cup packs won’t be recyclable until 2020. That’s at least 8.3 billion times 7 years (2013 – 2019), or 58.1 billion cups in landfills. Is convenience so important to us that we are willing to pay that price? “If companies start out with a more corporate responsible product, that'd make more sense,” add the makers of the Kill the K-Cup video posted to YouTube a few weeks ago. In the meantime, Keurig and Ekobrew offer a reusable filter option that uses ground coffee. Why not have integrated a reusable cup into the nature of the machine in the first place, and dispensed with the disposable pods? Would the gadget be as popular without the disposable option? If not, what does that say about us as consumers and our concern for the environment?
For now, our household continues to forego the convenience of a single-serve coffee maker. I am grateful to Mr. Carpenter for crunching the numbers on coffee pods, and to Macleans for reporting on his book and on the coffee-pod phenomenon. I don’t feel so alone any more.