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As head of Keurig Canada, a leader in specialty coffee that changed the way consumers enjoy their cup of Joe through innovative single-serve coffee makers, Stéphane Glorieux knows Keurig needs to meet the recycling challenge.

Many consumers wonder about what to do with the K-Cup pod after brewing a cup of coffee. Can they put it in the recycling bin? And if so, will the pod actually be recycled?

Mr. Glorieux set out to address these questions by working with the British Columbia organization responsible for recycling across the province, Recycle BC. Though seemingly easy to resolve, it's an issue that involved various challenges.

"We knew three things when [we moved] to recyclable K-Cup pods," Mr. Glorieux says. "Respecting our high standard of quality, we didn't want to compromise on freshness and taste. We wanted to create a pod that is not only recyclable but also gets recycled. And we had to work with the recycling community, so that our solution could be viable for local communities."

Allen Langdon, Recycle BC's managing director, explains, "We know first-hand that there are conflicting messages that surround recycling. One of those happens to be that while most plastic is recyclable, it might not actually get recycled. The fact is that recycling plastic is challenging - it comes in many varieties, shapes, sizes and colours, and varies in terms of end-market use and value –and to address that challenge we have developed one of the most sophisticated programs for plastic recycling in North America."

At the same time, meeting those challenges presents a huge opportunity to educate the public, meet consumer demand for quality products and help the environment by channeling more recyclable material to be used again in new packaging and other goods.

"What Keurig is doing in particular, in terms of small items, is really unique and something we haven't seen before," Mr. Langdon points out.

What the coffee company has done is deliver on its recycling strategy. Its new K-Cup pods are currently being produced, using recyclable polypropylene. Keurig coffee drinkers wait until the pod has cooled; then they peel back and dispose of the lid, empty the grounds into the compost bin and put the cup in the recycling bin.

"It's a great example of a producer taking a proactive measure to make their package more recyclable," Mr. Langdon notes. By the end of 2018, all K-Cup pods in Canada will be recyclable. That would be two years before the end of 2020, when Keurig meets its North America–wide goal to make all K-Cup pods recyclable.

Tests, which have been underway for three years now, were recently conducted at Recycle BC's container recovery facility in New Westminster, B.C. The results showed that an average of 91 per cent of empty polypropylene K-Cup pods made it to the container line – a rate equivalent to the capture rate for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) soft drink bottles, which have a long history as part of the recycling systems in North America.

Organizations like Recycle BC consider partnerships like this one with Keurig a critical first step toward generating increased recyclable packaging materials. These collaborations allow recyclers to engage with producers directly, which ultimately benefits everyone and helps move more material into the recycling stream and away from landfills.

The next step is arguably even more important – educating consumers to empty the K-Cup pods properly and dispose of them in the recycling bin. The Keurig–Recycle BC collaboration provides a template for other companies to align themselves with environmental and recycling organizations. Both partners in this case believe that their collaboration will help engage more producers in the recovery of small items, which, too often, consumers either don't think about and throw away or don't realize can be recycled.

As more partnerships of this type take hold and show success, a new standard for collaborating successfully can be set, improving recycling rates even more. Recycling has a long and successful history in Canada. Many Canadians don't know it, but the very first blue boxes originated in this country and were first tested in the 1970s. Today in Ontario more than 95 per cent of households have access to blue boxes, with similar percentages in other provinces.

Keurig's and Recycle BC's partnership extends this tradition of innovation and increased environmental awareness, which should encourage other producers of food and beverage packaging to follow suit. Seldom are there easy answers to big issues like protecting the planet, but there are practical solutions that can improve Canadians' lives and consequently lead the way to more environmentally friendly initiatives.

Enjoying that cup of Keurig-brewed coffee and being able to recycle the K-Cup pod is a small action for the consumer, but it's an important and thoughtful step toward brewing a better world.


This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Edge Content Studio, in consultation with an advertiser. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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