When 9 billion K-Cups were sold last year–enough to circle the Earth 10.5 times–it inspired an apocalyptic video that showed the coffee pods obliterating a city, a metaphor for the product’s environmental problems. Since the plastic pods can’t be recycled or composted, they’ve become yet another single-use package filling up landfills. (Even their creator disavows them.)
The problem inspired Singapore-based designer Eason Chow to redesign an edible coffee capsule that fully dissolves into a cup of coffee, creating no waste at all. A hard layer of sugar holds everything together, and melts away as it heats up.
Chow envisions the pods coming in different flavors and shapes. “Imagine a Japanese coffee bearing the resemblance of a Fuji mountain,” he says. He was inspired by the experience of buying candy as a child, and wanted to bring an element of play to the act of making coffee. “I remember the surprising and fun element of dispensing sweets from a gum-ball machine, and every attempt is unexpected and interesting with items of different characters emerging.” Each coffee capsule is a different flavor.
The capsules work with a specially designed coffee maker that streams hot water over them, making the pods slowly disappear. “With the final infusion of the coffee, the nozzle will allow the coffee to flow into your cup,” Chow says.
It isn’t the only K-Cup alternative to present a better option for the environment. Some competitors already offer biodegradable or reusable cups. Still, the best way to make sure a package doesn’t end up in the trash is to make it literally disappear–after all, plastic water bottles are easily recyclable, but most go to landfills anyway.
As the market for Keurig coffee makers continues to grow, maybe something like this–which is just a concept at the moment–could help. But the bigger question is whether we need convenience-sized coffee at all. It’s more expensive, less delicious (at least in its current form), and not really that much easier than just pouring hot water over grounds.