When John Sylvan invented K-Cups — those trendy little coffee pods — he wasn’t even that keen on the drink. He knew he had something brewing but, he said, he never thought the invention would feed a universal coffee addiction.
A couple of years ago, so many pods were produced — some 8.3 billion — Mother Jones estimated the discarded ones would wrap around the Earth more than 10 times. Last year, 9.8 billion packages were sold, though those were reportedly recyclable.
Still, the trash produced by the multibillion-dollar invention gives Sylvan regrets, he told the Atlantic in an exclusive interview.
“I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it,” he said.
Sylvan no longer owns the product. He sold it in 1997 to Keurig Green Mountain brewing company for $50,000. He told the Atlantic he regrets that, too. Since then, sales have grown exponentially every year. In 2008, consumers bought $132 million worth and, last year, revenue was up to $4.7 billion. Sylvan told the Atlantic that since he handed the company over, “I told them how to improve it, but they don’t want to listen.”
The company released a sustainability report last year, announcing its K-Cups will be recyclable by 2020.
“No matter what they say about recycling, those things will never be recyclable,” Sylvan told the Atlantic.
So, how does the K-Cups creator get his coffee fix? An old-school coffee maker. He doesn’t have a Keurig.
“I don’t have one. They’re kind of expensive to use,” he said. “Plus it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make.”
But he gets the appeal.
“It’s like a cigarette for coffee,” he said, “a single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance.”