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Q-and-A: How Canterbury Coffee helped cut the waste from single-serve coffee

3 min read


Sales of single-serve coffee pods continue to rise as consumers turn to one-cup brewers for their convenience and wide array of flavor options. But as more people choose single-serve pods as their preferred coffee method, concerns about the environmental impact of the non-recyclable, non-biodegradable pods have become harder to ignore. For a time, the only choice for consumers who wanted to reduce the waste produced by their single-cup brewer was to use a refillable insert. But now, a recent breakthrough by Canada’s Canterbury Coffee has brought a 90% biodegradable single-serve coffee pod to market.  I interviewed Derek Perkins, senior marketing manager with Canterbury Coffee about how OneCoffee was created.

Why did it take so long for a biodegradable, organic single-serve coffee cup to hit the market? What are the challenges of creating a biodegradable single-serve cup?

It’s taken two years of intense R&D to develop this product. There are numerous challenges. The first was that GMCR [Green Mountain Coffee Roasters] held patents for the structure of the cups that only recently expired. The other main challenge was trying to develop a cup structure that used less plastic. OneCoffee achieves this by using a different cup design. K-Cups are entirely sealed in soft plastic, OneCoffee uses a filter bottom cup that has no outer plastic layer. Even though the OneCoffee cup design requires an overwrap to maintain freshness whereas the K-cups don’t (because they are completely sealed) the overwrap uses 40% less plastic compared to what is needed for a k-cup.

Is every part of the cup biodegradable, or do consumers need to remove anything before placing used cups in the garbage or compost bin?

In Canada, the majority of municipalities use industrial composting and 90% of OneCoffee cups are made from certified compostable plastic which will breakdown in those composting facilities. The top lid and filter mesh will not so those will be screened out and sent to landfill.  In the U.S. it really depends on the municipality and how they manage waste. Our U.S. packaging can only state that the product is made from 90% Biodegradable materials — we are unable to make a more specific claim on the life cycle because there are so many variables however, if the landfill environment is warm and moist the plastic will break down. We are currently exploring new materials that will breakdown in less specific conditions and hope to have a solution in the next year that will work for all U.S. waste streams.

Did Canterbury Coffee produce traditional single-serve coffee cups before the invention of OneCoffee?

No. We didn’t want to enter this category until we were able to market a more sustainable option.

Variety is a big draw for consumers who choose single-cup brewers. How many flavors of OneCoffee are available, and how did you choose which flavors to include in the line?

We know that consumers love choice, so OneCoffee launched with seven varietals and a variety pack.  With the exception of the Breakfast Blend, all the coffees are single-origin and include: Peruvian, Sumatran, Colombian, Ethiopian. The decaf is Colombian and so is the French Roast. We use strictly hard bean 100% Arabica, organic and Fair Trade coffee in all of our OneCoffee varieties. The variety pack is great for company or for first time buyers who aren’t sure which origin they like best. It contains: Breakfast Blend, French Roast, Decaf and Ethiopian.

Image provided by Canterbury Coffee