Years, ago, my husband and I received a Keurig coffee maker as a gift. We loved the futuristic novelty of it: Put in a K-cup, press a button, get coffee. He could have his French roast, I could have my Colombian. But as I saw the wastefulness of the packaging, watching it pile up in the trash, that coffee didn’t taste so good anymore. Eventually we gave the machine away and went back to our regular drip coffee maker with the reusable filter and our favorite bulk coffee roast. It has it’s perks, but I do miss my Keurig — and that’s why K-cups top my list of things that I really wish could go in the recycling bin.
1. K-cups: They may be convenient, but the coffee pods used in Keurig coffee makers are famously non-recyclable, so much so that even the inventor regrets creating them (he’s redeeming himself, however, by working with a company that is researching low-cost solar energy). As for Keurig, the company has committed to making all of its K-cups recyclable by 2020. That’s 30 years after the company was initially founded: too little too late?
2. Food pouches: Pouch packaging for baby food, tuna, pet foot, applesauce, and more, definitely has its benefits. It preserves food well, it’s convenient, and it’s even green: It is more efficient to ship and store. But the pouches are not recyclable in most curbside programs. Some of the products, such as baby food pouches, can be recycled through a Terracycle program. While one packaging manufacturer did announce two years ago that it had developed a recyclable pouch, we haven’t seen them in use yet.
3. Cigarette butts: Whether you’re walking down a city street or sunbathing on a beach, cigarette butts seem to be everywhere. Without a doubt, cigarette butts are the only toxic, hazardous waste that you’ll see people littering without compunction. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of being flung out car windows or dropped on the street, cigarette butts were collected and turned into something else? Last summer New Orleans piloted a program in which the city collected cigarette butts. Organic matter was composted, toxins were removed via gamma radiation, and the plastic filters were melted into pellets and reused to make industrial-grade plastic products. Hopefully other cities will follow suit and dropping butts will have the same stigma as people who litter with bigger items like soda cans.
4. Diapers: For those environmental-minded parents who struggled with the cloth vs. disposable diaper issue and ended up choosing the latter, watching the diapers pile up in the trash bin is a struggle. But between the multiple types of materials used to make them, and the stinky contents within, diapers are far from recyclable. This didn’t stop Terracycle from trying to solve this issue: In 2012 the company announced it had developed a recycling program for diapers. Unfortunately, it seems the program never got off the ground — the closest Terracycle got was a short-lived recycling brigade for the plastic packaging for diapers.
5. Pizza Boxes: It seems like the bulky cardboard boxes that pizza comes in would be ideal to bundle up with the rest of your cardboard boxes and put in the curbside recycling bin. But not so fast: If that pizza box has grease or melted cheese on it, it can’t be recycled because those substances can contaminate the paper recycling process. (The same holds true for any paper products that have oil or food residue on them.) You can always rip off the untainted parts of the box to put in the recycling bin, or take a cue from Greenbox, a pizza box design that transforms the box into four plates and a smaller storage container for your leftovers. It might not be recycling, but it’s definitely reusing!