Well not quite, but in the arena of public opinion and criticism, the comments around ink supplies regarding their environmental impact has definitely been replaced with the story of the Keurig coffee K-cups. Keurig has gained immense popularity over the last several years since its introduction in 1996 among consumers, businesses, and everything in between. It instantly feeds the addiction to coffee in an easy, and quite convenient way. However, as a supplies analyst, the instant I saw these, I immediately thought, wow, that will create a ton of waste. And yet it is one of the best examples of the razor / razorblade business model since the original idea came about. With the outstanding addiction to coffee in this country, it has taken some time for Keurig and similar products to come under fire for their impact on the environment, but now the flood gates have opened. If you googled Keurig in the last week, all you would see is quotes from the original creator on how the invention may have been a mistake and the incredible amount of waste that has already been created from these cute and convenient coffee pods.
So what does this have to do with ink? Well, it was only a few years ago that the headlines that are now about Keurig were almost identical about the ink industry, another fantastic example of the razor / razorblade business model. As non-OEMs began gaining strength, they used the environment as one of the biggest arguments against OEMs. The ink industry was inundated with criticism over the environmental impact of empty supplies.
The criticism of the industry became a catalyst for change. Recycling bins started popping up at your local office supply store. OEMs were advertising various ways to recycle empty ink cartridges. HP opened up information on its closed loop recycling process. For the major OEMs, recycling not only became a PR effort, but also became a way to keep their empties out of the hands of remanufacturers who claimed environmental benefits, but in the early days, produced such sub-par products that OEMs were further tarnished by the unreliability of the cartridges.
With the environmental argument heating up, Keurig is facing competition from third parties, just as ink manufacturers continue to do. And again, the main argument is an environmental factor. At one point, printer companies were accused of voiding their warranties if a consumer used a third party ink in the device. And surprise, Keurig is now under fire for allegedly making unfair efforts to shut out rival coffee pods. Varieties exist that offer significant benefits over the original K-cups, but according to some, Keurig’s new machines are manufactured to reject these third parties (Keurig 2.0).
So why did Keurig elect to go with plastic to store its coffee to begin with in its K-Cup design? According to the company, it offers the best housing to keep the coffee the freshest. Despite that, Keurig has pledged to create a fully recyclable pod by 2020 while keeping their freshness promise. Until then, Keurig’s latest machines reject third party brands, prompting other companies to create work arounds to appeal to angry consumers. Again, reminiscent of what was seen in the ink industry in the past with options such as CISS. One third party coffee company produced what they call the “Freedom Clip” that allows consumers to rig a Keurig 2.0 so that it accepts rival brands. Sound like non-OEM cartridge chips to anyone? Keurig itself currently offers a service called “Grounds to Grow” brewed K-Cup pack recovery program, allowing workplaces to collect brewed packs and return them to Keurig’s disposal partner. Then empty is then converted for other uses including compost and energy.
Over time, major OEMs have found other ways to appeal to the environmental demands of today’s consumers. HP offers a variety of options including high capacity inks, combo packs with less packaging, Instant Ink, which was designed to deal with environmental difficulties, and the company’s extensive recycling programs. Epson has also done work in this area offering CISS products abroad and in the US, as well as its latest product, RIPS, the Reusable Ink Pack System. While these new product variations address environmental concerns, they also continue to fight against non-OEM alternatives, much in the same way that Keurig’s new pods are expected to do with their release in the next five years.
As mentioned above, consumer outrage coupled with competitors’ products, urged the ink industry to address environmental concerns. The ink industry is among the poster children for a high priced item that harms the environment, despite the reality of the situation being significantly different at this point. Keurig is facing the court of public opinion and with methods of creating coffee pods that can be fully recycled, it seems like a no brainer. But as Keurig takes the stage in the environmental arena, will Americans stop using the product at the rate that they once printed at-home photos? The answer is probably not. The addiction to coffee and convenience is far superior.