We love coffee!! We drink a lot of coffee!! We drink it every morning and every afternoon. I drink it before my night classes, and sometimes at class when it’s an especially slow lecture. We have four or five different coffee making devices, some more eco-friendly than others. So coffee is important to us, and so is the environment. But how do you make coffee, eco-friendly? There are some simple things you can do to lower your coffee addictions environmental impact and still enjoy its warm goodness. Note: This post contains affiliate links.
1. Make coffee at home.
I love going to a good coffee shop. It’s the perfect place to study. And there is nothing inherently wrong with going to a coffee shop to get your coffee. But think about it this way. Every time you go to the coffee shop you have to drive your car to get there, that uses gas, and emits CO2. And depending on the shop/company they may not get their coffee from sustainable, fair trade, farms. Plus there is all of the water and electricity they use to run the place, who knows if they get that from sustainable and renewable sources. And then your coffee comes in one of those paper disposable cups with a plastic lid. But you can just recycle those cups right? Their paper? Wrong! I’ve been recycling those cups for years until I found out the other day that most are not recyclable. If you look inside one of those cups they usually are smooth and shiny on the inside. That comes from a chemical coating placed on the inside to prevent the paper from softening when exposed to liquid. That coating makes it difficult for recycling centers to break down the paper into pulp so that it can be used to make new paper. Some recycling centers can handle these cups because they have special processes; but without contacting them your probably just guessing.
But when you make coffee at home you don’t have to get in the car. You know exactly where your coffee comes from. You can use a reusable eco-friendly cup. And you save money! You can get good, sustainably sourced, and fair trade coffee for the price of 2 or 3 lattes, and one bag makes way more then 3 cups of coffee. And with a little Googling you can learn to make the fancy drinks just like a coffee shop barista.
2. Ditch the pods.
I can’t argue with the convenience of a single-serve pod machine. They are quick and easy to use. We have one of these machines. But those pods are not very eco-friendly. Some of the pods, depending on the type of plastic used, are recyclable with your household recycling service. Other brands use aluminum or almost no plastic in their pods, which makes them recyclable. Check your with recycling service to see what kinds of plastics they accept. Most pods are made from number 5 plastic which is recyclable in most towns but some are made from other plastics that are not as easy to recycle. For those pods you have to take them to a special center or have a company that specializes in disposal of that number plastic. Here’s a guide on the different number plastics.
The biggest problem with recycling the pods is you have to remove the coffee grounds from the inside, which means you have to cut the top off and dump the grounds outs. This is why so many pods end up in the landfill, it takes time and effort to empty the used pods.
You can get reusable pods that you fill with your own coffee grounds. Using one of the devices stops the pods from ending up in the landfill. You still have to clean them after every use, but its less troublesome then having to cut the top off to remove the grounds. Here are some you can choose from (affiliate links).
My preferred method for ditching the pods is to use another type of coffee maker all together. There are several options to choose from:
Drip Coffee Maker
This used to be the standard in coffee makers before the single-serve pod machines came around. They are pretty simple to use. You put water in the back, usually, and place coffee grounds in filter paper in the top of the maker. The maker heats the water and then runs it through the coffee grounds in the filter. The filter stops the grounds from getting in the pot. The fresh brewed coffee pours/drips into the pot below, hence the name. Most machines come with automatic brew timers so you have the machine make coffee before you even get up in the morning. Here are some good drip makers to choose from (affiliate links).
Manual Pour Over Maker
You might have seen one of these at your local specialty coffee shop. It’s one of the simplest ways to make coffee, all it takes is a pot, filter holder, and hot water. All you do is place a special coffee filter in the special holder that is connected to a special pot; put your coarse coffee grounds in the filter; then slowly pour hot water over the grounds. The filter and grounds prevent the water from flowing too quickly into the cup below. The simplicity of the maker also makes it the most challenging to use. You have to have the water temperature right, the grounds the right consistency, the flow of the pour right, and you have to stand their and pour. We don’t have one of these makers but I would be very interested in trying one. Here are some good manual pour over makers to choose from (affiliate links).
Coffee Press (a.k.a French Press)
This is my personal favorite for making coffee. There is something nostalgic and elegant in its simple design. The design may or may not have originated in France; but it gained popularity by its use there. Here’s how it works. There is a glass or metal pitcher that holds the grounds and the water. Then there is a lid with plunger coming through it. The plunger has metal filter attached to one end that fits tightly inside the pitcher. Loose grounds are placed in the pitcher and then hot water is poured in after. The lid is put on top with the plunger all the way up at the top. The grounds steep in the hot water for several minutes, 4 minutes or longer depending on preference and grounds. When its ready, you slowly push the plunger down, sending all of the grounds to the bottom, allowing you pour out the water, turned coffee, without the grounds. It makes a smooth and silky cup of coffee. If you don’t pour out all of the liquid the grounds will continue to steep in the remaining water, leading to a bitter cup of coffee for the next person. It can also be used with loose tea. I use our coffee press every morning. I heat water in a tea pot as soon as I come downstairs. While the water is heating I grind the coffee beans coarsely and put them in the press. Once the water is hot I pour it in the press and let it steep for 7 minutes, my personal preference. While it’s brewing I pack my lunch and bag for work, and by the time I’m ready to leave its done. I pour it into my travel mug and go. Here are some good coffee presses to choose from (affiliate links).
This is another simple maker that we have at home and use it frequently. The percolator has two chambers separated by a filter and bowl/funnel. Coffee grounds are placed in the bowl/funnel, with a filter in the bottom. The bowl/funnel is placed on top of the first chamber. The the second chamber is placed on top of the bowl/funnel, with a filter between the bowl/funnel and the top chamber. The top chamber has a tube in the middle with a hole leading to the bowl/funnel. Water is placed in the first chamber, then the bowl/funnel is placed on top, and those two are screwed on to the top chamber. Then the whole maker is placed on the stove over high heat. As the water heats up it expands up through the bowl/funnel where the grounds are. It continues moving up, through the filter and tube, into the second chamber. It condenses and cools in the second chamber. The coffee is ready once the percolator stops making bubbling sounds. I find the percolator is best for coffee you might use in espresso. The darker roasted coffee tends to hold up better to the heat generated by the maker. Here are some good percolators to choose from (affiliate links).
We were single server pod users for a long time, but we realized they were not the most eco-friendly option. Also, as our coffee tastes have matured we found these other methods for making coffee just tasted better. Again the convenience is great, and we still have our single serve machine for when we’re running late, but these other makers only add a few minutes to our morning and we’re happy to do that if it means living greener.
3. Go Reusable
This one is a no brainer. Stop using disposable cups when your on the go and switch to re-usable mugs. Like I said earlier, most of those cups are not recyclable, especially Styrofoam ones. Switching to a reusable travel mug will save all of those cups from going to the land fill. Something I didn’t mention earlier, the chemical that keeps the cups from getting soggy also slows their breakdown in the landfill. And Styrofoam cups take hundreds to thousands of years to break down depending on conditions. And if you like iced coffee, like I do, you probably have to have a straw so the ice cubes don’t get in the way. But those plastic straw are terrible for the environment. They are eaten by wildlife and remain in their stomachs forever. If you need a straw like I do, switch to a metal, glass, or bamboo straw. They are easy to clean and you can take them on the go. Leave a bamboo one in your car and leave the plastic straw in store. And to really up your re-use game, switch to re-usable coffee filters instead of disposable ones. Here are some good reusable mugs, straws, and filters to choose from (affiliate links).
4. Don’t just throw away your coffee grounds.
Okay, so its not bad for the environment to throw your used grounds away. They degrade fairly quickly and the nitrogen they release into the ground would be good for the soil if it didn’t go into the landfill. Used grounds have a good amount of nitrogen in them, which helps plants grow. Most fertilizers contain mostly nitrogen; but commercial fertilizers tends to be heavy on nitrogen. That large boost of nitrogen is useful for new plants that need help to get growing; but the amount of nitrogen is often more than what most plants, including grass, need to stay healthy. That excess nitrogen leads to large, leafy, plants with fewer flowers. And when that excess nitrogen isn’t absorbed, it flows back into the water system causing excessive growth around the water ways.
So what does this have to do with coffee grounds? They are basically fertilizer. And they usually have just the right amount of nitrogen to help plants grow. You can mix coffee grounds right into your garden soil or place them on top near specific plants. As the coffee grounds degrade they release nitrogen into the soil. If you use the above methods just make sure the grounds are dry first, otherwise they might produce mold. Another method is to steep the used grounds in water, like making coffee, just in a big bucket of cold or lukewarm water. You can then spray the water in your garden or over your lawn like a liquid fertilizer. This method lets you cover a large area; but you need a lot more grounds and the potency is a little less than if you let the grounds simple degrade naturally in the soil. It doesn’t really matter if you strain the grounds before spraying; but if your worried about appearances you can strain the water through a cloth. The final option is to add the grounds to your compost pile. There, the grounds will break down and add critical nitrogen to the compost. We have small gardens and we make way too many grounds to just add them straight to the garden. We keep the grounds in an open container until they dry and then add them to an air tight container for use later. Every now and then I will add them to the garden or our small compost pile.
5. Buy Organic, Shade Grown, Fair Trade Coffee
Most coffee is imported from Africa and South America. Those coffee farms may not use sustainable farming practices, they may spray chemical fertilizers and pesticides, they may not treat their workers humanely, and they may not provide them a living wage. Organic, shade grown, fair trade coffee is the most sustainable coffee you can buy. Organic coffee means that it has been grown without those harmful pesticides or fertilizers. Shade grown means that the coffee plants were grown using a technique that preserves the jungle canopy for birds and other animals. Instead of cutting down large swaths of jungle for growing, farmers plant their trees amongst/under the jungle, preserving the habitat of migratory birds and other canopy dwelling animals. Fair trade means the coffee was produced, purchased, and shipped with a focus on fair prices, humane working conditions, respect for the environment, and helping the developing world. Purchasing fair trade helps ensure everyone working in the supply chain is treated with dignity and receives a fair wage. Here are some good brands.
It’s even better if you can find a local roaster who purchases organic, shade grown, fair trade, coffee beans directly from growers because the beans have to travel less to get to your kitchen, meaning lower emissions and fuel consumption.
There you have it. A guide to making your morning cup of coffee greener. What other ways do you make your coffee routine more eco-friendly? Tell us in the comments!