Why K-Cups are Bad for Your Health and the Environment

They’re convenient, delicious, and perfect for those rushed Monday mornings. Coffee is the most popular beverage worldwide, with estimating 450 million cups consumed each day. Out of those 450 million cups of coffee, 27% of Americans are using Keurig cups. That's about 121 million Keurig cups being used in ONE day! Have you ever wondered what happens to those cups after you throw them away? Not to mention have you looked at the ingredients in them or how they can affect our health?


If you think about it, how many times have you walked into a hotel room, office, or someone’s kitchen and seen a Keurig coffee maker with a tray of coffee pods nearby? Probably a lot because of the convenience that it provides. Unfortunately, we have traded our health and the preservation of our environment for convenience.


K-Cups have negative effects on our environment


In 2014, enough K-Cups were sold that if you placed them all end-to-end, they would circle the globe 10.5 times. How crazy is that? Some cities around the world, like Hamburg, Germany, recognized this issue and took action. They were the world’s first city to ban the use of coffee pods. Hamburg's Department for the Environment and Energy banned the use of these machines in government-run buildings, offices, schools, and universities due to their negative environmental impact.


Are K-Cups recyclable?


First off, Keurig cups cannot be recycled as a whole due to the structure of the cup so even if they were put in the right garbage bin, is there a right one? Every K-cup ends up in the landfill! A professor from Northwestern University noted that the coffee machines could invite significant backlash because they generate a TON of plastic waste.


In 2015, Keurig produced 9.8 billion non-biodegradable K-Cup, each taking up to 500 years to break down. Coffee grounds and aluminum are not recyclable. After each serving, the foil and contents must be completely removed. Taking a few extra seconds to clean each pod should be easy, but let’s be honest. It’s likely that the majority of people will still toss the empty cups in the trash, or neglect to correctly clean them. Chances are, most K-Cups are still destined for the landfill.


Even the inventor of K-Cups, John Sylvan, stated he regrets creating them because of how big of an impact it has on the environment and in 1997, he sold his shares of the company. Keurig claims on their site “By the end of 2020, 100% of our K-Cup® pods will be recyclable“ by using a BPA-free polypropylene (#5 plastic).


They also state on their website that once they are recyclable, you will still have to dump the grounds from the pods yourself which again leaves me to doubt that the millions of Keurig users who enjoy the product for convenience will be willing to do that daily.


It also states on Keurig’s website “The majority of communities in the United States accept #5 polypropylene containers in their recycling facilities. We encourage consumers to check locally to ensure their community accepts our recyclable K-Cup® pods before putting them in their recycling bin.” So it’s not clear if you go through the steps to dump your grounds and remove the foil, that your recycling facilities will even be able to accept the pods.



K-Cups may contain hormone-disrupting chemicals


Another reason why you shouldn’t buy K-Cups is how bad they are for our health. As we noted before K-Cups are made mostly of plastic which gets heated as you brew your cup of coffee. Basically, as the plastic heats up some of those chemicals get in the coffee grounds for your “freshly” brewed cup of coffee. BPA, BPF, and BPS are all chemicals found in plastic. All of these chemicals can affect our hormones and fertility.


While Keurig states they don’t use BPA in their cups, a recent study showed positive results for affecting estrogens levels. Estrogen is a sex hormone that is responsible for the development of the female reproductive system, so yes it's very important to monitor estrogen levels and eliminate any potential harm to them. The top part of the k-cup structure is made from aluminum which can also be a harm to our bodies when exposed to high heat and acids like coffee. Prolonged exposure to aluminum may cause some problems in your brain. It has been linked to depression, anxiety, and autoimmune diseases. While oral exposure is not usually a problem, if ingested at high levels it can cause problems.



Are your coffee pods making you gain weight?


Do you know not all K-Cups are just made with coffee beans? Here is a list of some ingredients in your K-Cups. Sugar, Creamer (Hydrogenated Coconut Oil, Glucose Syrup, Sodium Caseinate (from Milk), Sodium Polyphosphate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Sodium Stearoyl-2-Lactylate, Silicon Dioxide), Nonfat Dry Milk, Instant Tea, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Modified Food Starch, Salt, Sucralose.


Not one of these ingredients has any benefits to your health let alone your weight loss journey. If you consume multiple cups of coffee a day, the average person drinks 2.7 cups a day, but 1 average cup is about 8oz. So if you're consuming more than the average this could put you at a huge risk for health-related problems and again could be hindering your weight loss goals.


Coffee from coffee pods and k-cups are not cost-effective


If health reasons weren't enough, individual coffee pods are not cost-efficient. While they are convenient, you are paying over $50 a pound for your coffee. The most high-quality beans in the world do not cost this much. It is a no brainer to buy your own beans! At some point, convenience is not worth the health, environmental, and financial costs of K-Cups.



When possible, purchase reusable metal or paper coffee pods or recycled eco-friendly coffee pods that aren't made from plastic, as plastic coffee pods are made from polystyrene or polypropylene, can have ethylene-vinyl additives and can be reinforced with talc to help keep their shape under the pressure of boiling hot water. Some plastic pods have been found to contain bisphenol F (BPF) and bisphenol S (BPS) — two chemicals known to be endocrine disruptors linked to hormone imbalances, weight gain, and fertility issues. Even traditional pods marked “BPA-free” tested positive for estrogenic activity according to a 2011 study by Environmental Health Perspectives. Here is a study on BPF and BPS, showing the validity of hormone disruption.



In addition to the hormone-disrupting chemicals that are leached from the plastic from the coffee pods and brewed into your coffee, it’s also important to remember what other chemicals are lurking in your coffee beans.


Coffee beans sprayed with chemicals


Coffee is the number one pesticide sprayed crop in the world. Because coffee beans are so expensive compared to other crops, farmers will do everything it takes to protect their crops from various pests using pesticides and the use of fertilizers to help them grow. Mass production of coffee requires land, so farmers must clear out rainforests and trees to utilize the land needed for production. When the trees are stripped from the lush rainforest land, there's direct sunlight on the coffee bean, causing the immune system of the plant to weaken, creating a vulnerable environment where the crop is more susceptible to pests and insects. growing coffee requires shade. Exposure to pesticides and herbicides sprayed on coffee has harmful effects on your health.


Many of these pesticides and insecticides sprayed directly on the crops end up in the coffee that people drink on a daily basis and therefore harm our bodies. These chemicals also cause damage to the soil and pollute the local water supply. Furthermore, workers who have tremendous exposure to these chemicals suffer greatly. Flower growers in Ecuador are a prime example of this.


Risk of cancer


The chemicals that are sprayed on coffee are not only acutely toxic; some of them may also cause cancer. One of the most common herbicides used on Brazilian coffee plantations is glyphosate, which is sold under the brand name Roundup and used around the world as a weed killer.


In the three regions of Minas Gerais state where most of its coffee plantations are located, 1,800 tons plus 18,000,000 liters of glyphosate were sold in 2014. In March 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) changed its classification of glyphosate to “probably carcinogenic to humans”, in part because the chemical has been shown to cause cancer in research animals.


Glyphosate’s dangers include damage to DNA, according to Fabio Gomes, an expert working at the Brazilian National Cancer Institute (INCA).


“Even in small doses, glyphosate can cause cancer twenty to thirty years later”, says Gomes.


The question of whether glyphosate causes cancer is still debated, and in November 2015, the European Food Safety Administration determined that the chemical is unlikely to damage DNA or to cause cancer in humans.


Let's breakdown toxins are in your coffee:


  • Ochratoxin A is a mycotoxin that has shown it could possibly cause kidney failure and cancer, brain damage, and have negative effects on the immune system. This study found 33% out of 60 coffees sampled had Ochratoxin A.

  • Aflatoxin B1 is a mycotoxin and a known carcinogen that has been shown to have various harmful effects on the brain and kidneys.

  • Acrylamide is a potentially harmful chemical formed when coffee beans are roasted. It is found in all coffees and there isn't a way to avoid it. The highest amounts of Acrylamide are found mostly in instant coffee and lighter roasted coffee but the amounts in each greatly vary.

  • Pesticides, Insecticides, Herbicides - This list is ever-changing so it's hard to keep track -- it’s estimated that around 40 different pesticides and chemicals are used on coffee crops around the world. Although many chemicals are banned in the US and EU, there are many other countries that have little to no regulations which means things can slip through the cracks. Additionally, the US government does not have maximum residue limits (MRLs) for pesticides used on coffee beans so there is really no way to know exactly how much pesticide residue is lurking on your coffee beans.

How to reduce harmful toxins and chemicals in your coffee:

  • To reduce Acrylamide in coffee, choose dark roasted coffee and avoid instant coffee and coffee alternatives. Like I mentioned before, there is no way to completely remove it so your best bet is to reduce consumption amounts.

  • Purchase certified organic coffee that is free of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers, and other potentially harmful chemicals.

  • To avoid mycotoxins, seek out brands of coffee like Natural Force coffee or Bulletproof coffee that are stored in temperature-controlled areas to avoid humid, moist storage environments that can lead to mold.

  • Reduce your coffee intake. That doesn't mean you have to stop drinking coffee altogether, but you might try reducing your consumption starting with the weekends. This is an easy way to start lowering exposure to harmful molds and chemicals.



If all of that information about the detriments that coffee pods have on our environment, the negative effects that the plastic coffee pods and the high heats from boiling liquids that give us high chances of chemically induced estrogenic activity, and ALL of the pesticides, toxins, and molds from non-organic coffee don’t sway you from wanting to consume k-cup coffee pods, then I encourage you to at least consider the taste.


Coffee that you receive inside of the coffee pods have been ground long before you drink it, possibly even days to years before. Yuck!


When coffee is ground, it is immediately exposed to oxygen which triggers a chemical reaction called oxidation which diminishes the flavor and aroma. There is also no way to confirm if Keurig coffee pods spray any type of chemicals to ensure freshness.


So ditch the coffee pods. Fresh, organic brewed coffee is best!


If this article has piqued your interest in what is lurking inside of your pantry, then I encourage you to read my blog post Why You Should Stop Buying Almond Milk!