Keurig's New Coffee Pods Really Are Sustainable — But There's a Catch

The company is rolling out completely plastic-free and compostable pods by 2025. Here's everything you need to know.



Three decades ago, Keurig proudly stated in a press video, it "disrupted" the coffee industry by releasing its single-use pods. Since then, millions of users have popped in a capsule or two in the morning to jump-start their day. Competitors also quickly followed suit, creating their own one-time-use pod systems, which, yes, have created convenience but have also created more than 570,000 metric tons of waste worldwide. Not all of that trash is from Keurig alone; however, as one analysis showed, the number of K-Cups produced in 2013, lined up end-to-end, would be enough to circle the globe more than 10 times, each one taking up to 500 years to decompose. But now, it appears Keurig may be on the path to righting the ship once again, creating a new kind of coffee pod that promises to be both delicious and actually sustainable. 

On March 13, the company unveiled its "multi-year innovation agenda," which included a redesigned, totally plastic-free pod known as K-Rounds. Each round, the company stated, is created from "expertly roasted coffee beans that are ground, pressed, and wrapped in a proprietary, protective plant-based coating preserving the coffee's flavor and aroma, eliminating the need for plastic or aluminum." The new pods will allow users to still make the hot or cold drink of their choice, including espresso-based drinks and iced coffee. 

"Thirty years ago, Keurig changed the way consumers brewed coffee, with the introduction of the K-Cup pod single-serve coffee system," the company's chairman and CEO Bob Gamgort shared in a statement. "Today, we are applying all our expertise to create a revolutionary new system that will redefine how consumers will brew coffee for decades to come. Our ambitious agenda reflects our commitment to providing variety, quality, value, and sustainability to the 45 million North American coffee consumers who currently use Keurig brewers and the millions of potential new households who will discover the benefits of a perfect cup of coffee prepared effortlessly in their home."

Related: How to Upgrade Your At-Home Coffee Situation

And as the video highlights, these pods aren't just about the company moving into more eco-friendly territory. For Keurig, it appears it really is about making a better cup of coffee as these pods much more closely mimic the brewing style you see at your favorite coffee shop thanks to their compacted design. But here's the catch – you're going to have to buy an entirely new Keurig system in order for the pods to work, as they will not be compatible with older machines. 

The new system, the Keurig Alta brewer, works in much the same way as the current system. You simply take your now fully compostable pod and feed it into the top. Every pod also comes with a "brew style code," allowing the machine to read it and adjust the settings for that specific pod. The Alta brewer will also have the capacity to brew existing K-Cup pods, but that's perhaps the least exciting part about it. CNET, which had the chance to test out the new machine, reported that the rounds are shelf-stable for up to six months, but once opened, they are only counter-stable for 30 days before the quality declines. The pods, Keurig shared with CNET, will also be sold at a premium. (Food & Wine reached out for pricing details and will update this story when we have more information.)

The company stated that the new system will undergo beta testing beginning in 2024, taking in feedback from users to improve it before heading to the mass market. The company is also working to get the “certified compostable" labeling before launch but is still working through the certification system. 

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