K-Cup Inventor: I Feel Bad I Had the Idea

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Investors usually take pride in their creations. But there are exceptions. Alfred Nobel so regretted the military uses of his invention, dynamite, that he founded the peace prize, as the foundation named for him relates. Robert Propst, inventor of the office cubicle, reportedly "lamented his unwitting contribution to what he called monolithic insanity," according to Business Insider.

Then there's John Sylvan. If the man isn't familiar, his brainchild -- the K-Cup system -- will be. The single-cup brew system is wildly popular, accounting for more than a quarter of ground coffee category sales in 2013, as Quartz reported. By 2018, some analyst estimates say that consumers will spend as much on coffee pods as on ground coffee, reported the Seattle Times. That's not even counting the hot cocoa, tea, and other drinks that can be generated by the system and the many companies that make drink pods.

And Sylvan is sorry.

"I don't have one," he told the Atlantic. "They're kind of expensive to use. Plus it's not like drip coffee is tough to make."

But it's not cost and unnecessary convenience that fuels Sylvan's regret. Nor is it having sold his share of the company for $50,000 in 1997. Keurig Green Mountain has a market value of nearly $21 billion. No, what leaves him with second and third thoughts is that the K-Cup has become an environmental disaster according to many.

In 2013, Keurig Green Mountain produced 8.3 billion K-Cups, or enough to wrap the equator an estimated 10.5 times, according to Mother Jones. By 2014, the number of cups hit 9.8 billion, according to NPR.

Those cups aren't recyclable, which means they go right into landfills and the materials used to make them are lost for reuse.

There are two problems on the recycling front. One is that the cup, filter, grounds, and foil top of so completely put together that separating the parts for recycling is impractical, according to the Atlantic report. As NPR pointed out, even if you could separate the parts, the cup itself is made of No. 7 composite plastic, and few recycling facilities can handle it.

The K-Cup has become legendary. There's even a YouTube video that critiques the environmental implications by way of a short mock horror movie, where an alien monster is constructed of them.

That's why Sylvan told the Atlantic, "I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it."

The company claims that it is working on a more environmentally-sensitive version and that 100 percent of the cups will be recyclable by 2020. But Sylvan doesn't seem convinced. "I told them how to improve it, but they don't want to listen," he told the Atlantic.
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