I have a new product idea. I’m going to start selling plastic bricks. Or maybe just big unsculptural hunks of plastic. They don’t do anything, they aren’t even art. They’re just meant to go in the garbage when you get home. The only thing you can do is throw it away – not even recycle it. Just right into the trash.
Express train to the landfill. And I’m going to charge $42 dollars apiece.
The only distinguishable feature will be the words “I’m Sorry” printed on them – a message to the future.
You might think that’s ridiculous, but don’t worry. I’m not actually going to move forward with that as a business plan… because someone already did it. Except, instead of unsculptural hunks of plastic, they made them in the shape of tiny cups and put some coffee inside. And it was a runaway success.
I don’t mean to point fingers at Keurig (well, I do a little), but use them as an example of a major problem we’re facing: the level of packaging on our products has gotten out of control.
If you paid for Keurig coffee by the pound it would be $50. So that’s roughly $8 of coffee and $42 of garbage. Literally, that’s all it is. Those little pods cannot be recycled. So, into the landfill they go. You are paying Keurig for the privilege of filling a landfill. You bought your eight dollars of coffee (that causes its own environmental issues but one thing at a time here), and then you bought FORTY TWO dollars of garbage.
You might as well buy my unsculptural hunks of plastic.
Bottled water is the same – it’s a 2000% markup. You would never buy a $10,000 sandwich. But a $2.00 bottle of water? (Or $4.00 if you’re at the movie theater or a sporting event!) No problem.
And only 2% of those bottles make it into recycling, where they are downcycled into cheaper plastic over and over until they too end up as, well, probably Keurig cups.
Just for perspective: Out of the faucet, that bottle of water would cost you a penny or two, and, to boot, tap water has more regulations and standards than bottled water… So, you’re buying less clean water and some garbage.
There are some places where you need bottled water – like places where the natural water supply has been irreversibly damaged by the environmental degradation from mining and waste. Devastation that came from our unmitigated appetite for Stuff and Convenience.
It’s gotten out of control.
If you don’t believe me, google Garbage Island in the Pacific. It may be the size of Texas, or it may be twice the size of the continental United States. It’s really hard to get an exact estimate because it’s not just empty water bottles, it’s that our man-made plastics and materials are now interacting with the oceans in unpredictable ways, contaminating the waters and having unknown and perhaps unknowable effects.
When will it stop?
I can actually make a case for the environmental benefit of a Keurig machine (only heating up as much water as you need, when you need it), but those pods are too much. (If you must continue to purchase these landfill pods, there are some ways you can buy your way out of the guilt. You can also always just buy the $3.00 reusable pod and put your own grounds in! Why this is not a more widely used option is beyond me.)
In fact, one of the inventors of Keurig has since apologized for making the cups, saying he “feels bad”, and that he himself doesn’t even own one, commenting “They’re kind of expensive to use, plus, it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make.”
There are other solutions:
Like, stop buying garbage. And I don’t mean that metaphorically. When you’re looking at prices of things, and you see the price difference, think to yourself: Ok, that’s $0.01 of water and $1.99 of waste, or $8 of coffee and $42 of landfill material.
This matters on every level. If you don’t care about how you’re wasting the earth, then at least care about how you’re wasting your money! The only competing interest in this equation is laziness and convenience – which, admittedly, are strong forces.
Above all, this is an issue of generational justice. I’m deeply concerned about the kind of earth we’re leaving for the next generation. But I’m also direly concerned about the kind of generation we’re leaving for our earth.
In a time when we won’t even take the personal responsibility to change the empty toilet paper roll, how can we have a conversation, let alone action, to effect change in the world? (The link between replacing the toilet paper and saving the earth is so clear to me somehow…)
We may as well write our apologies onto our waste – stamp those K-cups with our I’m Sorrys and Please Forgive Me. We have plenty of plastic bags and plastic pods to write out all our excuses: “We chose convenience over your future. We chose our laziness over your wellbeing. It seemed like a good idea at the time…”
These K-cups and plastic water bottles, these mounds of packaging and our devastated oceans will long outlive us. They will be all that’s left of us. Everyone talks about changing the world, and there’s no doubt that we have. But this cannot be our legacy for the next generation. This cannot be the world they’re inheriting. And these cannot be the habits they’re inheriting.
I’m the first to admit that we can’t just shop our way to a greener future, but we can consume our way to a worse one.
If you don’t change, no one else is going to.