Happy Earth Day, coffee lovers! Welcome to my table, here in the corner of this cafe – which is made of recycled wood, milk crates, and counter remnants.
In light of today’s celebration of Mother Earth, many of you may be asking yourselves, “What can I do to be a more environmentally-conscious coffee consumer?”
It’s true that coffee consumption can lead to an awful lot of unnecessary waste; between the water used to wash your brewing equipment, the water used to brew the coffee, the electric used by automatic drip brewers, the trees that are cut down to produce paper filters, the paper filters that are then thrown away after each use, the finished grounds that take up volume in landfills, the paper cups that are tossed carelessly into waste bins and then take up volume at landfills…
It’s shocking how many natural resources are required to produce a single cup of coffee.
Now, take the statistics that go into a single cup of coffee, and multiply it by 400,000,000 – the average amount of cups of coffee consumed per day in the United States alone. Then, of course, since after oil, coffee is the most highly traded commodity on the planet, you have to multiply that figure by another astronomically high number to arrive at the average daily amount of cups of coffee consumed globally – now we’re talking a lot of zeros.
That’s a lot of waste.
Coffee consumption takes a major toll on the environment; unless, of course, you consume your coffee responsibly. So let’s revisit your original question: “What can I do to be a more environmentally-conscious coffee consumer?”
I’m glad you asked. Today, I’m going to give you 8 tips for environmentally friendly coffee practices:
Nine Tips for Environmentally-Friendly Coffee Consumption
1. Shop Local
Not only does it help support your local economy and small business owners, it also, in some ways, supports the environment. Big coffee brands (we’re talking just about anything you can find in Wal-Mart or other grocery stores) mass produce coffee and do not think twice about the environmental impact of any step in their production processes. The size of their carbon footprints are giant.
Local roasters don’t have nearly the output as corporate juggernauts and, thus, don’t have nearly as negative of an impact on Planet Earth. Plus, your chances are better with local roasters that their coffee is fair- or even direct-trade certified.
Did you know that coffee grounds are tremendous for plant fertilization? If you have a garden, a yard, a potted plant, or know somebody who does, save your coffee grounds after each brew instead of tossing them in the trash. (It’s not that coffee grounds are doing any harm in a landfill, it’s that used coffee grounds could be doing your plants a lot of good!)
Used coffee grounds are a great addition to the compost pile – they benefit the composting process and contribute to nutrient-rich soil. Composting is a fun and easy way to downsize your coffee’s carbon footprint.
So, get this – not all paper cups are recyclable. Have you ever wondered why your coffee doesn’t leak through the paper of your to-go cup? Or why it doesn’t stain? That’s because inside each paper to-go cup at your favorite coffee shop is lined with a thin waxy, water-proof coating.
Because of that coating, your to-go cup has only fate: “to-go” to the landfill (see how I did that?).
It’s pretty outrageous, but understandable – this article will tell you all about coffee cup recycling dilemmas. However, that doesn’t mean that your to-go cup HAS to go to the landfill. Believe it or not, because of that damned coating, it’s actually reusable! Just wash it thoroughly by hand, dry it, then take it back to the cafe to fill it up again.
If that doesn’t sit well with you, ask the barista if the shop has a to-go cup recycling program – some do! Or, find another use for the cup after you use it – be resourceful! Get on Pinterest and make some crafts! Be sure to at least recycle the cardboard cup jacket and plastic lid.
4. Don’t Use Stirring Sticks
First of all, you shouldn’t be putting cream and sugar in your coffee – it’s gross, and disrespectful to the coffee. Furthermore, if you don’t like the taste of your coffee, you probably shouldn’t be drinking coffee in the first place. Just my opinion.
But if you absolutely must dilute your coffee with cream and sugar, don’t use the wooden stirring sticks – a tree lost its life and a landfill got filled up a little bit more so that you could tolerate your morning cup of coffee. Instead, put the cream and sugar in your cup first, then pour the hot coffee over it, and stir it just by shaking your cup in a circular motion. The coffee’s heat will naturally dissolve and blend the cream and sugar.
5. Everything in Moderation…
This one is pretty obvious – just cut back your intake. That will ensure a significant decrease in your coffee waste. Duh.
6. Buy a KeepCup
Some of you may remember my post about “my travel mug post-apocalyptic nightmare,” in which I vent about the downfalls of travel mugs and tumblers. But here’s the bottom line about that post: suffering through low quality coffee is a whole lot better than making the planet suffer with non-recyclable to-go cups. Personally, I recommend buying yourself a KeepCup. And if you do buy a KeepCup, make sure to buy it from Dear Coffee, I Love You.
From their website:
KeepCups are ‘barista standard’ because a trained barista can make awesome to go coffee in them. They come in the four standard takeaway sizes and fit under the group handles of most espresso coffee machines. When your coffee is made in a KeepCup the crema on the shot is not broken and the portioning of milk to coffee will be correct. KeepCups have thermal properties similar to paper so they are not a thermos. Replicating the functionailty of disposable cups KeepCups are splashproof, not a sealed container.
7. Reusable Filters
To help reduce the amount of paper you use when drinking coffee, buy reusable filters; not only will it help the environment, but it will improve the taste of your coffee. Furthermore, in the long run, it’s cheaper! If you still want to use paper filters, look for unbleached, biodegradable ones.
Gold filters, French presses, the Coava Kone, and the Able DISK are all fantastic alternatives to paper filters.
8. Recycle Your Automatic Brewer
That’s right. Get rid of it. The body is made of plastic, which is recyclable; the pot is made of glass, which is recyclable; it’s using up electricity, driving up your energy bill; it’s taking up counter space; and the quality of coffee your automatic drip brewer produces is a travesty! So just recycle it. The way I see it, there’s no loss at all. Win, win, win, win, win.
Instead, get a Chemex, a Hario V60, an Aeropress – anything else! Just get rid of your Cuisinart, Bunn, Mr. Coffee, and Keurig nonsense and join the land of the living – where high quality, specialty coffee reigns king.