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Suit charges Keurig's coffee pods aren't recyclable as advertised

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  • A federal judge rules that a class action against Keurig Green Mountain over the recyclability of its single-serve coffee pods, or "K-cups," can proceed.
  • The suit accuses Keurig of misleading consumers about the products, which are made of recyclable plastic but are too small and light to actually be recycled.
  • Keurig last month reiterated that it intends to make all its caffeinated pods recyclable by the end of next year and convert to 100% recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025. 

Keurig Green Mountain is less green than advertised, according to a lawsuit filed against the coffee brand. A federal judge in California recently turned down a request from the company, now known as Keurig Dr Pepper, that a proposed class action be dismissed. He rejected Keurig's argument regarding the recyclability of its single-serve coffee pods, or "K-cups." 

The suit maintains that Keurig made phony assertions about the coffee pods' recyclability. It claims the size, composition and lack of a market for K-cups' reuse meant they couldn't be recycled as Keurig advertises. While the pods are made of polypropylene, a plastic accepted for recycling in about 61% of the country, they're too small and light to be captured by most materials-recovery facilities.

California resident Kathleen Smith contends in the suit that she and others were misled by Keurig's marketing, arguing that had she known the pods weren't recyclable, she wouldn't have bought them nor been willing to pay as much as she had for them.

Keurig touted its coffee pods an an option to brewing less coffee in a regular coffee maker, with instructions on its packaging telling users to simply "Peel," "Empty" and "Recycle" the pods, according to Smith's suit.

Illogical contention

Keurig argued that its advertising and labels encouraged users to "check locally" to determine if the pods could be recycled. It claimed consumers would understand that recyclability wouldn't be the case all the time. The judge, however, found the company's contention illogical because the pods in fact aren't recyclable through any recycling facility in the country.

"Common sense would not so clearly lead a person to believe that a package labeled as 'recyclable' is not recyclable anywhere," U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam wrote in the ruling

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The judge also rejected Keurig's argument that it followed Federal Trade Commission requirements for such labels. He said "if a product is rendered non-recyclable because of its size or its components -- even if the product's composite materials are recyclable -- then labeling the product as recyclable would constitute deceptive marketing."

Keurig said it doesn't comment on pending litigation. Still, it said "our pods can be recovered with existing equipment" at recycling facilities. All of the company's K-Cup pods sold in Canada are recyclable as of the end of 2018, and "we are just beginning to introduce our new recyclable pods in the U.S. more broadly," Keurig said. Last month the company reiterated that it intends to make all its caffeinated pods recyclable by the end of next year and convert to 100% recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025. 

"It goes in the garbage"

But even some recyclers are skeptical. Martin Bourque, executive director of the nonprofit Ecology Center in Berkeley, California, dismissed the company's efforts during an interview earlier this year.

"We're going to all this effort for a tiny amount of plastic so that Keurig can tell their customers that their cups are recyclable when, by the way, we've been making coffee for 800 years without any K-cups, and it's far better coffee," Bourque said. "If you want a K-cup, you have to just accept that it's not recyclable and it goes in the garbage."

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