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, from deforestation and unsustainable bean production to plastic cups and pods.
For anyone who’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.
A French press method is popular for brewing low- 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 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 an innovative 4-stage filter.
Stainless steel filters offer a zero-waste alternative to paper filters. Unlike single-use paper filters, the 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. However, do watch out for extremely fine grounds, which these may not filter, and go for coarser blends.
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 the 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 for zero-waste coffee, you can invest in reusable k-cup pods. This way, you can work out making a single cup of coffee while minimizing 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 flavors 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 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, and it will also help keep your coffee hot.
Some Etsy shops offer a variety of vintage and second-hand Moka pot designs perfect for zero waste coffee. This design goes back to the 60s. Traditional espresso machine styles feature an aluminum bottom and ceramic top. Simply buy coffee beans to suit your taste, grind, and once loaded in the coffee pot, place on the stovetop. 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, ground coffee, 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 must first identify the coffee beans' source. This includes the way and how a company packages them.
Zero-waste coffee starts from the source 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 patronize 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 fertilizers.
Related read: Can you recycle coffee bags?
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.
Buying coffee beans locally is something you can do to minimize waste. Rather than traveling to a distant location, which leads to carbon emissions, why not look for local producers? There’s also something rewarding about patronizing small local businesses. Also, be sure to look out for local farms that roast their beans onsite.
You can also look out for zero-waste stores and businesses that prioritize eco-friendly practices. One of the things these shops do is 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 after your morning coffee, 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 into body scrubs. This helps to create a zero-waste cycle.
The process of producing coffee down to the paper cups is often found to have significant environmental effects. The option of brewing your own coffee at home is usually more sustainable compared to purchasing your daily coffee fix in 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.
Related: Check out our coffee quotes to get you in the mood for your next hot steamy brew without the waste.
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.
Single-serve coffee from a pod provides convenience but at an environmental cost. Single-portion dosages of coffee have become popular among coffee customers and consumers.
They are small, pre-packaged, measured, and convenient. However, manufacturers package many of them in plastic, which contributes to the heaps of non-biodegradable plastics in landfills.
Thankfully in response to a growing mountain of discarded pods, the more progressive manufacturers have turned their hands to biodegradable options and reusable zero-waste coffee options.
In the United States alone, the population uses around 136 million disposable cups every day1. Billions end up in landfills every year. Although these disposable cups have paper as their primary material, manufacturers also line them with plastic. Simply carrying a reusable cup can help you avoid more paper and plastic trash.
Adopting zero-waste coffee practices 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.
Triantafillopoulos, N., & Koukoulas, A. A. (2020). The Future of Single-use Paper Coffee Cups: Current Progress and Outlook. BioResources, 15(3), 7260-7287.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.