Coffee culture continues to grow with more and more people including the beverage in their list of daily must-haves. However, coffee isn’t always green, and the downside is that our coffee habit has a significant impact on the environment. Can we get our coffee fix and reduce waste? Read on for our complete guide to zero waste coffee.
Coffee is one of the most popular beverages worldwide. According to the British Coffee Association, the global population consumes around two billion cups of coffee every day. If you’re an avid coffee drinker, your morning routine almost certainly starts with a daily fix of caffeinated coffee goodness, brewed at home or purchased from the now ubiquitous coffee shop. All the while we can’t seem to get enough of the stuff.
For anyone that’s committed to a daily morning coffee pick me up, through the occasional drinker, below we explore how to brew coffee while supporting sustainable and zero waste practices.
The process of producing coffee down to the paper cups it often found in all have significant effects on the environment. The option of brewing your own coffee at home is usually more sustainable compared with purchasing daily paper cups.
Even when preparing your beverage at home, it’s also important to consider the origin of the beans you use when making coffee. Giving more than a passing thought to the production of the coffee beans, packaging and the machine you use proves essential when on the hunt for your eco coffee fix. If you’re wondering what some of these environmental impacts are, we’ve highlighted some of them below:
How producers grow coffee beans to eventually roast and grind to end up as our steamy cups full makes for one of the most significant potential environmental impacts. Generally, unsustainable agricultural practices are a major cause of clearing land. We can witness the same trend and resulting deforestation from high yield coffee production.
One of the least unsustainable ways or practices in which this takes place is through sun-grown coffee. On the other hand, shade-grown coffee provides a means to grow coffee beans that conserve the forests and soil.
At one point, global coffee production was growing consistently by 2% every year3. As a result of the growing demand for this beverage, people began to incorporate the sun-grown coffee technique, which proves quite distinct in its effects on the environment. Apart from the clearing of forests, sun-grown coffee also usually requires synthetic fertilizers.
In the Belete-Gera Forest of Ethiopia, an estimated 49% of the accessible forest is dominated by coffee production1. As much as there are unsustainable practices, a growing number of companies work towards sustainable and zero waste coffee endeavours.
Single-serve coffee from a pod provides convenience but at a cost to the environment. Single-portion dosages of coffee have become a popular thing among coffee customers and consumers.
These capsules or pods offer convenience by allowing you to make only the amount you require. They are small, pre-packaged, measured, and convenient. However, many of them pose serious dangers to the natural environment.
Manufacturers package many of them in plastic, which contributes to the heaps of non-biodegradable plastics in landfills. Many of the capsules are aluminium and plastic, rendering it difficult to recycle the parts efficiently. As a result, many people end up throwing them out.
Naturally, this contributes to the world’s waste production. Thankfully in response to a growing mountain of discarded pods, the more progressive manufactures have turned their hands to biodegradable options.
In the United States alone, the population uses around 136 million disposable cups every day2. Billions end up in landfills every year. Although these disposable cups have paper as their primary material, manufacturers also line them with plastic.
Due to this plastic presence, these pose an environmental challenge. Another way these popular coffee products also affect the environment is that their production leads to deforestation. It’s also worth noting the use of chemicals during production and their disposable nature. To ensure a zero-waste plastic-free coffee practice, reusable mugs or tumblers are a better option.
There are many options available that help to ensure producing your cup of coffee has minimal impact on the environment. To produce less waste, you can switch to a sourcing and brewing method that prioritize zero waste coffee.
In this section, we’ve highlighted some brewing methods that’ll allow you to enjoy your cup of coffee while protecting the environment. Options abound from the French press and cold brew coffee techniques to reusable k-cup and stainless steel filters through sustainable coffee or tea makers.
The French press method is a popular option for brewing low waste or zero waste coffee. Brewing coffee in a French press is an easy and straightforward method to make a cup of low waste coffee.
First, you need a coffee maker. The process involves adding ground coffee to the French press, pouring boiling water in, waiting for about four minutes, then pressing down the plunger to filter. With this, you can enjoy a cup of hot coffee with minimal waste. If you compost the coffee grounds, you’ll be a step closer to ensuring the process is zero waste.
This stainless steel BPA-free coffee maker features a four-level filtration system and heat resistant glass carafe. The filter system ensures coffee grounds don’t make it into your cup. You can use this maker for either coffee or tea.
Apart from its heat resistance design, this stainless steel striking coffee press comes in a range of sizes and boasts and innovative 4 stage filter.
The stainless steel coffee filter offers a zero-waste alternative to paper filters. Unlike the single-use paper filters, this paperless option means you can reuse them. You can either use these filter options as replacements for the paper types or use them on their own.
All you have to do is position the filter over your cup or mug, add your coffee grounds and boiling water and let it brew. So, if you’re looking to ditch disposable filters, these coffee filters do the trick.
These easy-to-use coffee filters are reusable, portable and easy to clean. They serve as a pour-over cone for drip coffee. They also make it possible for you to see and control the coffee grounds you pour into water.
Another zero waste alternative is this filter. It offers a dual filtration technology that keeps the coffee grounds out of your cup. This serves as an eco-friendly and zero waste alternative to single-use pods and filters.
K-Cups became a popular coffee-making method because they make it possible to brew one cup at a time, which also helps prevent making too much coffee at a time.
The bad thing is that k-cups, that is, the pods, usually come in unsustainable packaging. If you want to enjoy your k-cup machine in an eco-friendly way, you can invest in reusable k-cup pods. This way, you can work out making a single cup of coffee while minimising waste.
These three-pack refillable and reusable k-cup filter pods help you eliminate the waste that comes with the single-use versions.
This stainless steel pod allows you to enjoy a variety of coffee flavour at your discretion. Unlike single-serve pre-filled pods, this one gives you more room to explore. This product also features a filter that allows you to extract the coffee grounds.
Using a Moka pot is a low waste and low technology method for your coffee brewing routine. These stainless steel stovetop makers make it easy to make a cup of concentrated coffee. All this method requires is the pot, coffee grounds, water and heat. First, preheat the water. Then, fill the bottom part of the pot with water, the middle basket with coffee grounds (you can grind the beans with a hand or electric coffee grinder), screw the top on and place it on the stove.
This stainless steel pot presents a simple way to make and enjoy a cup of espresso. It doesn’t have any toxic internal coating or plastic, making it safe to use.
Some Etsy shops offer a variety of vintage and second-hand Moka pot designs. This design goes back to the 60s. Traditional espresso machine styles feature an aluminum bottom and ceramic top. Simple buy coffee beans to suit your taste, grind, and once loaded in the coffee pot place on the stove top. The pressure of the boiling water will force it through into the upper container for wonderfully fresh coffee. If you’re looking for more designs, the store offers other unique second-hand options.
Cold brewing offers a simple, low waste and machine-free alternative to coffee making. You just need glass jars, coffee grounds and water. Simply mix the grounds with cool water in the jar, then leave to steep overnight. Once it’s ready, use a filter or coffee sock to strain the water part or liquid from the grounds.
Making coffee the way the Turkish have done for centuries is another zero waste option. You simply leave extremely fine coffee grounds to steep in hot water for a few minutes directly in a cup or pot. Coffee drinkers used to the milky varieties available from coffee shops may find Turkish coffee a bit strong. Others, however, love it. Be sure however just to drink the coffee on top to avoid a mouthful of fine grounds.
Apart from brewing coffee at home, you can also buy zero waste coffee beans if you’re a casual drinker or aficionado. To achieve this, you have first to identify the source of the coffee beans. This includes the way and how a company packages them.
Zero waste coffee starts from the source, much before it ends up in your cup. It’s important to look out for coffee beans that come from sustainable sources. This entails an origin that doesn’t contribute to actions such as deforestation. An excellent way to determine this is to patronise companies that sell shade-grown coffee beans. Fair Trade certified coffee ensures they come from fairly paid farmers, who sometimes run family-owned businesses. Also, the organic label helps you identify those that farmers grow without chemicals and toxic fertilisers.
Buying in bulk is another way to prioritise zero waste practices. Something as simple as taking a cloth bag to purchase coffee beans goes a long way in helping the environment. Taking your cloth bag or glass jar to the grocery store allows you to limit the use of single-use packaging. Packages like plastic and paper have significant effects on the environment. You can apply this same practice to tea shopping. Instead of relying on single-use tea bags, you can buy them in bulk.
You can carry this bag along when going to shop for coffee beans. It is made from organic cotton and offers various uses.
These natural burlap sacks are a great addition to your zero waste lifestyle. You can take these along when you go shopping to prevent waste from unnecessary packaging.
Buying coffee beans locally is something you can do to minimise waste. Rather than travelling to a distant location, which leads to carbon emissions, why not look for local farms? There’s also something rewarding about patronising small local businesses. Also, be sure to look out for local farms that roast their beans onsite.
You can also look out for stores and businesses that prioritise eco-friendly practices. One of the things these shops do is to provide compostable or recyclable packaging. Many of them will also be transparent about the origins of their coffee. A good number of these shops roast onsite, so don’t forget to carry a refillable container along.
Single-use or disposable cups pose a great danger to the environment. Billions of them end up in landfills, contributing to pollution and other climate issues. If you enjoy the experience of cafés, be sure to take your reusable mug or tumbler along.
Composting your grounds is an effective way to achieve zero waste coffee. Rather than tossing them out, you can add them to your compost heap to improve soil structure. When people include these grounds in general waste, they often end up in landfills. Here, they contribute to the emission of methane, a greenhouse gas.
If you’re feeling creative or crafty, you can also repurpose your coffee grounds to body scrubs. This helps to create a zero-waste cycle.
Adopting a zero waste practice to your coffee drinking habit doesn’t have to be a daunting switch. Whether you’re an avid or casual consumer, you can always incorporate these easy changes into your lifestyle.
Cheng, S., Hiwatashi, Y., Imai, H., Naito, M., & Numata, T. (1998). Deforestation and degradation of natural resources in Ethiopia: Forest management implications from a case study in the Belete-Gera Forest. Journal of Forest Research, 3(4), 199-204.
Triantafillopoulos, N., & Koukoulas, A. A. (2020). The Future of Single-use Paper Coffee Cups: Current Progress and Outlook. BioResources, 15(3), 7260-7287.
Baker, P. (2014). Global coffee production and land use change. In Conference paper pre-publication, version September (Vol. 2)