The Mystery of the Bio-Degradable OneCup™ Revealed

Filed in Featured Articles, OneCups, The Inside Scoop by on October 23, 2013 30 Comments

As a new employee, I’m fascinated by the process of making coffee. Everything is brand new and filled with mystery. For me, and I think probably you, the biggest mystery of all is the Bio-Degradable OneCup™.

My first question was, why make a bio-degradable OneCup™?

The story starts with a 27-year veteran of the Rogers Family Company and no, he isn’t a Rogers.

Tom Garber, VP of Innovation & Implementation, was tasked by the Rogers to bring the OneCup™ to market as an environment-friendly single serve coffee product.

The process started in 2011 when the Rogers Family Company was approached by a customer asking if we could come up with an alternative to the popular single serve coffee product.  Tom’s job was then to challenge and press our vendors to create the machine that would be the catalyst for this new product.

After many attempts, Tom finally found success with a company in Italy.

The machine produced a single serve coffee with 33% less packaging; the team was excited but not happy.  A 100% bio-degradable product was and remains the goal.

BIO-DEGRADABLE — capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms.

My second question was, what makes the OneCup™ bio-degradable?

Tom approached the OneCup™ product as a whole, but focused on the individual elements to independently become bio-degradable.

First was the plastic ring.  The team played with hundreds of different thicknesses and materials until they found the one that worked … a 100% plant-based ring.

Plastic vs Bio-Degradable Ring

Next, Tom worked on the “mother bag” — the bag that holds the OneCups™.  Originally this outer bag was made with three layers of plastic. Today, it is made of 100% bio-degradable transparent paper, and we have been in production with this material since June 2013.

Biodegradable Mother Bag

It took Tom six months and the team tested nine different films, but they finally found one that would become 100% bio-degradable without compromising its freshness.

 In April 2013, the OneCup™ became 95% bio-degradable.

Then came the tough part, attaching a paper film lid to a plant-based ring. According to Tom, “it was amazing how our vendors worked with us to solve this problem. And after almost one year of research and testing, we finally had a solution of taking us to a 97% bio-degradable OneCup™.”

Different Onecup Lidding Materials

Finally, Tom is working on the filter paper, or SMASH, that holds the coffee.  He says, “I won’t be happy until I get that last bit and create a 100% bio-degradable product.  We have played with nine different materials, and we are very close.”

Failed Smash Bio-Filters

So let’s break it down in simple terms.

The OneCup™ is currently 97% Bio-Degradable, and the following are the elements of the OneCup™:

– The Box =  (Bio-Degradable)

OneCup™ Components

– The Ring = Plant-Based Material (Bio-Degradable)

– The Mother Bag =  100% Transparent Paper (Bio-Degradable)

– The Lid = Transitioning to Paper-Based  (Bio-Degradable)

– The SMASH = Poly Mesh   (Not bio-degradable) YET.

Now, here was my final question.

Why should anyone care about this bio-gradable product? Yes, asking this question was a gamble considering I’m a new employee, but hey, you gotta test the boundaries, right?

The simple answer as interpreted by me is this. A large company has the ability to make changes to an industry by simply deciding to do so. The Rogers Family Company grows, roasts and packages coffee for you, the consumer.  At each of those stages, choices are made, i.e. where the bean comes from;  how we treat the farmer;  the process of roasting; the focus on creating high quality as opposed to just churning out a product; and the choice of material in packaging.

This company made a conscious choice to find material that not only made the product cheaper to produce, hence cheaper retail price, but also that was environment-friendly.  They put up their own cash and said, “we are going to solve what we see as a problem”, i.e. billions of plastic single serve coffee containers going into landfills for who knows how many hundreds of years.

If you don’t have to contribute to a problem, why would you?  That’s the corporate mentality.  They are problem solvers, not creators.

I, for one, am impressed.  Four weeks ago, I had no idea this company existed, now here I sit telling you this amazing story of the very first 97% Bio-Degradable single serve coffee known as OneCup™.

I couldn’t be prouder to work for a company with such a commitment to elevating an industry and bringing the customer along for the ride.

As Tom describes it, “the moment the OneCup™ was created, the company was determined it would become environment-friendly.  It’s just the right thing to do!”  After nearly two years of research and development, countless hours and thousands of airline miles, the OneCup™ is on its way to be 100% Bio-degradable.

The Rogers Family Company proudly says, “Toss your OneCup™ with a clear conscience”.

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About the Author ()

Chris Swift - Digital Content Specialist, coffee lover, all around happy camper.

Comments (30)

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  1. Tami Griffin says:

    I am so excited to hear this! We dig the used grounds out and save them for our friends who are bee keepers to use for their veggie garden. Then we recycle every part that is recyclable and toss the rest! Holy cow! This will be WAY easier!!

    Thank you for being environmentally aware!

    • Shannon Oswald says:

      This is the linchpin in my Kurieg problem. I just could not bring myself to abandon my gold mesh reusable filter and drip coffee machine to join the millions adding plastic waste to our landfill. Now that the cup is almost completely compostable, I may have to buy my first Kurieg-type machine and of course, order my coffee from Rogers Coffee. Thank you.

  2. Dana Millaway says:

    Congratulations! Keep it up! I switched to OneCups to get away from the plastic bottoms of the other brands. Now I can enjoy them 97% guilt-free!

    Last year, I used Roger’s Family Company for a college project on corporate social responsibility. Everyone, including my instructor, was impressed with your efforts (and I got an A on the project). I wish I could go back and give an update on this news.

    Thanks!

  3. JimW says:

    Thanks for the “story behind the story”. One of my biggest objections to the “K” one-serve machine was the waste/trash. With my conventional coffee maker, I put all the waste, (filter & grounds), in my compost pile. Made me crazy when the wife insisted that we switch, and I saw all the plastic going into the trash. Keep up the good work!! – Jim

  4. poodles2 says:

    How long can I store these (exp date)and is it better to store one cup bags (unopened in the fridge or room temp? Love my gorilla decaf as well as my rainforest!

    • Good question Poodles2.

      Unopened bags of coffee will keep for about one year and this is also true for our OneCup single serve coffee. Once the bag’s seal has been broken, flavor loss starts. It should be kept in a tightly sealed container or in its original bag in a reasonably cool storage place.

      Despite well-intentioned folklore, refrigerating or freezing opened (or unopened) coffee does not extend its shelf life. As soon as a bag is opened and its contents meet the air, oxidation starts and the coffee begins to lose flavor. After a week or two the staleness is not noticeable, but after several months of exposure to air, the coffee has a pronounced unpleasant taste.

      Hope that helps.

  5. ASK51 says:

    So you finally broke down my resistance to the K-cup phenomenon with your commitment to recyclability. I have been resisting the purchase of a “K-cup” machine until I found your recyclable cups. Love your coffee already. I can report that the cups work well in an affordable Bunn “My Cafe” brewer. My question is how do I recycle the cups? My first attempt at separating the filter from the rest ended up with coffee grounds all over me and my sink. Is there an easy way, I am assuming that you are not intending that one throw away the non-biodegradable filter in the compost pail? Also, the box says the lidding is not biodegradable, but your video says it is. Is that so recent that I just got an older batch? I can’t wait until your cups are 100% compostable, you will have finally achieved the true convenience that this system should have been from day 1! Thank you for your persistence in the quest of ethical responsibility over profit! Last question…my wife has been told to cut out coffee due to acid reflux, she would rather switch to “low-acid” coffee. Would any of your coffees fit that bill?
    Thanks again!

    • Glad to have you Ask51:

      Our transition to a biodegradable single serve packaging proved challenging in many way including separating the mesh filter from the rest of the POD. While we continue to develop and test materials with our vendors, the Coffee, Ring, Bag and Box are biodegradable as well as the Seal (lidding) on the SFB French Roast and Fog Chaser. Separating the mesh filter undoubtedly is a challenge and it must be carefully removed by cutting along the edge of the ring – and here caution is advised. We hope to have a completely biodegradable single serve packaging in the near future but until then, we ask for your patience and our sincere gratitude for your support of our products.

      The second part of your message regarding acid reflux. Coffee has its own acidity; low acid coffee is made by cold brewing, and can be safely consumed by sufferers of acid reflux or gastrointestinal problems caused by drinking heat brewed coffee. Preparing low acid coffee reduces up to 67% of the acid and it doesn’t affect the taste or aroma.

      I’ve included a couple of links on low acid coffee

      http://www.rogersfamilyco.com/index.php/low-acid-coffee-infographic/
      http://www.rogersfamilyco.com/index.php/6-steps-to-reduce-coffee-created-digestive-problems/

      If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

      • Mary Wood says:

        So how should we dispose of the cup at the moment?

        • Chris Swift says:

          Good question Mary. If you compost, you will need to remove the mesh from the ring and dispose of the mesh in your trash. You can do this by carefully cutting along the edge of the ring. The coffee, ring and lid can be put into your compost bin. If you do not compost, you can simply toss the entire pod into the trash. It, not including the mesh, will biodegrade as designed. Hope that helps.

  6. Jules says:

    Thanks for having this information written up so well on your website. My husband just suggested getting rid of our Keurig because of the waste from the pods that he says makes him feel bad every time he uses it. I quickly jumped in and said that the pods were biodegradable. With a tone of disbelief he said “prove it”. We’re looking forward to you reaching the future 100% goal. Rainforest Organic and French Roast are our faves — great products!

  7. Archie Aquino says:

    I love the whole idea of what you are doing! I’ve been drinking this coffee for a while and recently discovered the 97% bio-degradeable packaging at Costco and have since been using it … about 3 boxes so far. Did you change the coffee brew? Blend? Composition? It does definitely taste different. I’d appreciate some clarification. Thanks!

  8. Mary Parkinson says:

    I was so pleased to see the words “97 percent bio-degradable” on the SFB
    French Roast box at Costco yesterday. Like so many, I enjoy making
    single-cup coffee, except for having to throw away all those plastic
    K-cups. (I have always scooped the coffee grounds out of the used cups
    and added them to our compostable debris can.) Your company, however, is
    approaching perfection!!! I look forward to seeing “100 percent
    bio-degradable” on the packaging soon, and I will continue cutting off
    the mesh bags until that happens. Thanks for your efforts.

  9. Sigrit Van Damme says:

    I am so happy to have discovered your bio-degradable pods at BJ’s . Just for clarification : do I recycle the ‘mother bags’ with the paper or the plastic recycables ? I plan on passing this info. on to my friends , who like I , probably never heard of this planet-saving solution and coffee-lovers’ alternative .Many thanks !

    • Chris Swift says:

      Morning Sigrit, the mother bag is actually bio-degradable so no need to recycle. You can just through it away with your regular trash and it will simply degrade over a short period of time, less than 6 months and be gone back to the earth. So glad you found us.

  10. Bill Van Dam says:

    I am have a very active compost process going at the edge of our yard. Your biodegrade cup is wonderful and I see you are urgently working on finding a degradable mesh. Is the current mesh a problem in a compost pile? It is a very tiny piece of the volume and I suspect that I would not notice it in the final compost product. In a hot (140 dF) compost pile how long will it take to fully degrade the cups? We add 5 to 7 cups each day so it adds up.

    Finally, my wife loves flavored coffees (hazelnut being her favorite) so she still uses the plastic K cup. Do you offer flavor choices? I cannot find any on your website. If no are you planning on adding flavored coffees in the future?

    Like others, I would like to thank you for the effort to provide a great solution to a problem!

  11. Howard Lai says:

    Thank you for the great and hard work, and I really enjoy your story and coffee. Only one issue always concerns me: the chemical residue. For the bio-degradable materials and the SMASH used in One Cup, are they stable through hot brewing? Supposedly they should be much safer comparing to the plastic used in regular K cup, but I really look forward to your feedback on this safety issue. Thank you.

    Howard

  12. Mark johnson says:

    I was ready the article on acid reflux, you said cold brew your coffee, but I like my coffee hot, my question is can I heat my coffee in micowave after I cold brew it, and still have same results, thank you. I been drinking coffe since I was a baby now 65 and still love it

  13. Nate says:

    I loved these! One of my Soldiers, here in Afghanistan, received several packages of different flavors of this 97% bio-degradable k-pods tasted so good. Is there a way we could receive a complimentary package for my unit in Afghanistna? I would love to keep the good cups overflowing.

    Also, do you plan on making a v-pod for the Vue?

    Thanks!

    Nate

  14. Karen B says:

    Thanks for this thorough description. Sharing w family and friends who are just now suffering from the fear factor.

    Glad people are thinking about the constituents of the cups! Unfortunate that the worries of a mind are freaking everyone out [“article”] about the keurigs harboring musty stuff. Do you have any info about that tendency? I’d like to think that for the most part all you need to do is keep your container and joint areas clean. A very little maintenance! [Duh.] ;>) ~ K

  15. Donna D says:

    Firstly, I commend your company on being socially responsible to the environment. There is far too much environmental waste in many of these “convenience products” on the market. My question though is this: have studies been done on the health safety of the materials you use and if so can you point me in the direction of where I may find same. I have been waiting for a response to Howard Lai’s question of October 7th and since it has not been answered as of yet, felt compelled to make a new inquiry.

    • Chris Swift says:

      “Our Smash Filter does not filter in the same way as paper filters; it holds back coffee particle from the brew but does not absorb sediments or oils like paper filters. As a user of packaging materials, we understand the ongoing risks of associated with food safety and we rely on the FDA and third parties to ensure that the products we use are safe, manufactured under good manufacturing practices and derived from sound raw materials. We additionally require our packaging suppliers to provide us with certification that what they supply us was manufactured from materials that meet industry standards and are in compliance with the regulations for dry solids with a surface containing free fat or oil as well as meeting the code of federal regulations for such products.”

      An article by Dr. Rob van Dam, Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health

      http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/coffee/

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