Still Calling

Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Keurig Edition

In which my old buddy and former editor Joel Mathis riffs of me, riffing of the Atlantic on Keurig k-kups:

“No matter what they say about recycling, those things will never be recyclable,” Sylvan said. “The plastic is a specialized plastic made of four different layers.” The cups are made from plastic #7, a mix that is recyclable in only a handful of cities in Canada. That plastic keeps the coffee inside protected like a nuclear bunker, and it also holds up during the brewing process. A paper prototype failed to accomplish as much.

And because the K-Cup is made of that plastic integrated with a filter, grounds, and plastic foil top, there is no easy way to separate the components for recycling. A Venn diagram would likely have little overlap between people who pay for the ultra-convenience of K-Cups and people who care enough to painstakingly disassemble said cups after use…

Even in Halifax, Nova Scotia, one of the few places that can recycle category #7 plastic, K-Cups are accumulating in quantities that alarm people who see the waste coming out of offices using the machines…. Hachey and colleagues were embattled every time they finished making a cup. “We didn’t like having these little pods that we couldn’t just easily open up, compost the grounds, and recycle the plastic,” he explained. Even for the employees who were willing to take the time to separate the lid, remove the paper filter, and compost the grounds, the local recycling facilities were struggling with the cups falling through sorting grates.

Talk about your Isaac Newton moments: “Holy flurking schnitt: when a product is deliberately designed to be inexpensive, non-resusable, nonrecyclabe, and 100% disposable, you wind up with tons of it in our already mountainous landfills!”

A number of people linked to the article via FB, where on some now unfindable thread Joel and I were on, people were expressing their general dismay about this story, which could have NEVER been predicted. And so, in my inimitable bridge-building way, I channelled Bill Burr:

…and Steven Colbert:

You don’t get to act surprised that Keurig k-kups go right into the landfill anymore than you’re allowed to plead innocent on the grounds that your wife was asking for it or that you can kick the poors and still call yourself a Christian.

What Joel took from this comment was, I believe, a wholly unintended (although probably easily misinterpreted) statement about purity:

…I realize that almost all of us make tradeoffs when it comes to the environment. Unless you’re a vegan locavore cave-dweller who lives on geothermal heat and composts your own poop, the truth is you’re leaving a little bit of a mess behind every single day. Every choice — from coffee drinking to an airplane flight to the clothes you buy — has an impact, and not all of it is positive. Most of us do the best we can — and fall short in different ways. The only way to have no impact? Be dead.

This is, of course, 100% true. We make these choices, necessary and unnecessary, every day. For example, I am unemployed but I will probably head to my local bar for a quick beer tonight, paying a markup for the privilege of drinking in the presence of friends. Earlier this week, I chose to participate in the factory farming industry, buying conventionally-raised chicken at a mainstream grocery. As a result, I’m doubtless putting all sorts of hormones and chemicals in my body as well.

What I’m NOT doing is acting shocked and surprised that a beer that costs $2.50 at the store costs $4.00 at the bar, or that factory-farmed chickens are raised inhumanely. And that’s where I hope I’m not misunderstood: I want people to own their choices. You get to be dismayed, as a consumer that the Keurig company and their clones aren’t recyclable. In fact, as a consumer you get the distinct leverage of advocating for change. But you do not, YOU DO NOT, get to look at the mountain of plastic that you leave in your wake and say “I had no idea” any more than a 2-pack a day smoker gets to pretend he had no idea he might get cancer or emphysema from his habit.

So it’s not about judging: it’s about owning, and that means, at baseline, being willing to say “and yup, i don’t give a shit.” Now pass the factory farmed chicken, I’m hungry and it ain’t getting any earlier.

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