How to Recycle and Repurpose Used K-Cups

TerraCycle Include USA zero waste box
I'm a coffee nut, so I love all things coffee — especially brewing my own cup(s) at home in the mornings. And though Keurig is a popular favorite for many coffee-lovers like me since it allows for easy-to-make one-cup coffee (hello, afternoon fix!), its single-use pods are not exactly ideal for those trying to cut down on their waste and plastics. "As with most single-use products, durable, multiuse alternatives will always be more environmentally friendly," says Alex Payne, North American public relations manager at TerraCycle, a recycling company. "Waste-conscious consumers should be encouraged to brew coffee by the pot, but if they already have a coffee-pod machine in their home, they can try reusable coffee pods that can be filled with their favorite ground coffee." If you are the proud owner of a Keurig, don't worry, there are still plenty of ways to make sure you're being environmentally conscious while brewing your favorite drinks. Beyond using reusable pods with your own ground beans, you can often recycle K-Cups. Here's exactly what you should know about recycling K-Cups.

Are K-Cups Recyclable?

Yes, K-Cups are recyclable — to an extent. At the end of 2020, Keurig changed its formula to make Keurig K-Cup pods recyclable. According to the company, it chose polypropylene (#5 plastic) because "it is widely accepted for curbside recycling in a majority of communities across North America and there is growing demand for it as a recycled material." Keurig also recently introduced "easy-peel" lid technology on select items, and those lids feature a built-in tab that makes it simple and convenient to peel off and discard the foil lid. However, K-Cups are not recyclable in every community or location. Consumers have to check with their local recycling service.

How Do You Recycle K-Cups?

If K-Cups are recyclable in your community, just peel and discard the lid using the tab, then compost or discard the grounds and recycle the empty cup. If traditional recycling isn't available in your community, there are other ways to recycle through outside programs and recycling companies, too. TerraCycle, for instance, has a few recycling solutions for single-use coffee pods. Its programs — including its "Zero Waste Boxes" — help to fill in the gaps of what consumers can't recycle with their municipality's curbside program. "By recycling with TerraCycle, consumers not only keep waste out of landfills but they also keep the material in-use by manufacturers," Payne says. "Using post-consumer recycled material in new products proactively eliminates the need to extract additional fossil fuels from the earth."

How Can You Reuse and Repurpose K-Cups?

Traditional recycling isn't the only way to be sustainable with your coffee pods. Try reusing them for other purposes that have nothing to do with coffee. Use them as organizers for small objects — I personally like them to keep hold of bobby pins and hair ties or to sort change — as arts-and-craft projects (paint them! Trace them! Make a garland!); or, if you have a green thumb, use them as seed starters. Other ideas? Make mini popsicles or ice cubes in the freezer using the pods or use them as dip dishes (they're the perfect size for a side of ketchup or ranch, in my opinion). However you decide to repurpose your K-Cup containers, you can feel better knowing that you're getting more out of what was conceived to be a single-use plastic.