Kill the K-Cup

Keurig Green Mountain, the US based producer of K-Cup coffee machines and pods, is being targeted in an integrated advertising campaign, “Kill The K-Cup”. A faux-horror video shows downtown Halifax in Canada being invaded by K-Cup shooting aliens, all captured in footage reminiscent of the 2008 film Cloverfield. The film is connected with a microsite, killthekcup.org, aggregating news stories about the environmental impact of K-Cups. The campaign is the work of Halifax production company Egg Studios in association with local coffee company Social Bean. Together they have launched a change.org petition to Keurig Green Mountain, calling on the company to “develop a 100 percent recyclable coffee pod NOW,” and not as late as 2020, which is the company’s target date for recyclable pods.

Kill The K-Cups

The Kill The K-Cup video begins with the setting in text. “In 2014 the use of the K-Cup reached unparalleled levels. Output became so high that there were enough discarded K-Cups to circle the earth 10.5 times. The numbers continued to grow until the day of the invasion…” A group of office workers recording their presentation of a birthday cupcake become the film crew capturing the live action in the street.

Egg Studios CEO, Mike Hachey, said the Kill The K-Cups campaign was a passion project for his 20 staffers. “After buying one of these machines as a consumer and also putting them into our office, we quickly realized that there was a massive amount of waste,” he said. “They’re not doing their job as a corporation to maintain a better level of responsibility when it comes to sustainability in their efforts.”

Egg Studios switched over to what Hachey says is a more sustainable system that doesn’t use the plastic pods. That setup was provided by Social Bean Gourmet Coffee Company, which sells fair trade coffee in Nova Scotia. As Hachey was talking with the folks at Social Bean, he saw an opportunity.

“We just thought, you know, I wonder if we could make a bigger difference, given how many people out there have written about Keurig and the waste, but it was falling on deaf ears,” he said. “So we thought maybe we could do something that would engage people on a audio-visual level and create a little story about an invasion, of sort, of K-Cups in this world, and use that metaphor to create a bigger amount of change.”

Kill The K-Cups

“We collected discarded K-Cups from some of our clients and our friends and offices that use them around the city for about two weeks,” said Egg Studio Creative Producer Kristen Allison. “We had bags and bags of them that we used, which was part of the challenge because we don’t use K-Cups here at own office, obviously.”

Kill The K-Cups

Environmentalists have often criticized the product because it is not easily recyclable. The packaging has plastic and foil and is filled with hot, wet coffee grounds after use. Keurig has begun to address this issue with its “Grounds to Grow On” program that provides shipping for used K-Cups so they can be recycled. The program is currently only available in the continental U.S. and only to business customers. The company notes on the Grounds to Grow On website that “our sustainability department is currently researching ways to expand the program to home consumers.”

But Hachey said those efforts aren’t enough, especially as Keurig makes plans to move into the cold beverage market. “They’re not doing their job as a corporation to maintain a better level of responsibility when it comes to sustainability in their efforts,” he said. “They’re looking after their bottom line, they’re looking after their shareholders only, and they’re not looking to the consumers, so people need to know this.”

Hachey also said he was frustrated with Keurig Green Mountain’s efforts to prevent third-party coffee pods from being used in the company’s new Keurig 2.0 machines, some of which are recyclable.

Kill The K-Cups

Keurig Green Mountain Response

Keurig Green Mountain Chief Sustainability Officer Monique Oxender issued the following email statement in response to the video:

We appreciate the creativity and humor of The Social Bean’s video on the environmental impact of our K-Cup® packs. Having said that, the recyclability of Keurig Green Mountain K-Cup® packs is an issue we take very seriously. As our systems continue to grow in popularity, addressing their environmental impact is a critical priority for us. It’s a difficult challenge, but we’ve been working hard to find a solution.

Our Vue®, Bolt® and K-Carafe® packs’ plastic cups are recyclable in the majority of communities, and we’re committed to ensuring that 100 percent of our K-Cup® packs are recyclable by 2020. We are pursuing multiple avenues to achieve our 2020 target, with a focus on addressing three primary areas: the design of the packs, the development of recycling infrastructure, and the end market development for the materials.

In addition, as you mention, we are working to expand our take-back programs in workplaces and homes for areas where municipal recycling is not an option. We currently offer a take-back program for workplace customers in the U.S to collect brewed K-Cup packs and grounds, and return them to our disposal partner to turn them into alternative fuel. This program has recovered an estimated 17.4 million used K-Cup packs, composting 358,000 pounds of coffee grounds and generating an estimated 586 kilowatt hours. In Canada, collected brewed K-Cup packs from Van Houtte customers are used as alternative fuel at the Holcim Canada Joliette cement plant, reducing the plant’s reliance on traditional fuel sources.

We are also working with the recycling community on broader infrastructure solutions. We are seeking a robust recycling system for polypropylene (#5) plastics that includes active support from all sides, including municipal governments, companies, consumers, and recyclers. Accomplishing our 2020 target requires changes to the recycling infrastructure that we can’t address alone. We recently joined with Walmart, the Walmart Foundation, and other global companies in the Closed Loop Fund, with the goal of making recycling available to all Americans. The Fund aims to invest $100 million in recycling infrastructure projects and spur private and public funding for transforming the recycling system in the United States.

We are committed to meeting our goals, while still delivering the high-quality, great-tasting beverages that our consumers expect from us. Along the way, we will be transparent about our progress and opportunities to improve the sustainability of our products.

Credits

The Kill The K-Cup ad was produced at Egg Studios, Halifax, by director, producer and copywriter Charles Wahl, director of photography Jeff Wheaton, executive producers Mike Hachey, Sara Thomas, producer Kristen Allison, editor Patrick Hachey, animation/VFX team Ryota Suyama, Will Poulin and Gerry Cleary, title treatment producer Jaison Simmons, colorist Jim Patriquin, sound designer Marc Arsenault, camera assistant Martin Noel and post production supervisor Bob Mills.

Films on the Egg Studios Vimeo channel provide a behind-the-scenes look at how the footage looked before and after animation and colour correction.