The cost of convenience


How will we cope with all our wasteful products?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 10, 2015

John Sylvan is the inventor of Keurig K-Cups coffee pods. Like Doctor Frankenstein bringing life to his monster, Sylvan caused unintended havoc with coffee pods.

In an interview with the Atlantic, Sylvan openly admitted that although his creation had earned Keurig Green Mountain billions, he regretted it and does not personally consume it himself. It was a rare confession, but one based around a real-world dilemma. Since the inception of coffee pods into the morning routine, people have found it ever more challenging to be waste-conscious.

Environmentalists have condemned coffee pods from day one, but the product is thriving. In 2013, one in three Americans enjoyed a single-serving cup of coffee at work or at home and over 11.6 million coffee pod machines were sold. If there is a problem, we are not dealing it. But should we?

The premium price we place on convenience is hard to ignore. Coffee can be as cheap and as expensive as you want it to be. Instant coffee only requires a few tablespoons from a canister of Nescafé and a little bit of stirring in hot water. It’s not fancy, but it’ll give you the same jolt as a coffee pod. The price of that is approximately $10 for 50 cups. Not bad. For K-Cups, the cost is about a dollar per cup, which is a third cheaper than Starbucks. The price at the moment is in a grey area: reasonable and worth trying.

So what are we actually doing? Is there any logic to using coffee pods or are we all committed to it now that we’ve purchased the ultra-expensive kitchen appliance? We have become dependent on Keurig and other coffee pod machines. Like a home printer, we’ll buy ink just to keep it relevant. Caught in a wave of trendiness, coffee drinkers are now shackled to the machine. And sooner or later, remorse will seep in.

This is not the first product designed for coffee that people deemed wasteful: disposable cups, coffee sleeves, lids, stir sticks, and the like. It seems like everything associated with coffee is somehow wasteful. Should we stop drinking coffee? No. Caffeine is the fuel for our society and that isn’t going to change. What we need to reconfigure is our reason for convenience.

When do we need something convenient? When we are in a rush. When we are too tired to put in the effort. Those are reasonable excuses to use K-Cups. Sure. But when those two scenarios aren’t a factor, make a cup of coffee the old-fashioned way. If it’s not too much trouble, carry a reusable cup with you into a coffee shop.

There is nothing wrong with using products that are convenient. Technology is built to make our lives easier. And if it’ll make you a cup of coffee and help you catch the bus on time, then the bit of waste is worth it. However, if you are just lollygagging and hanging around waiting for the Keurig machine to brew your drink, shame on you. Make a cup of coffee in a less wasteful way. It might actually taste better too.

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