Welcome to Coffee Talk. I’m your host, the Sustainable Bitch.
My day doesn’t begin until I’ve engaged in my daily ritual of ingesting enough caffeine to make me feel human. However, many of our common coffee habits are extremely wasteful.
Americans alone consume over 500 million cups of coffee per day. If one person buys just one cup of coffee or tea in a disposable cup every day, they create about 23 pounds of coffee-related waste in one year. We throw away nearly 100 billion—billion, people!—paper and styrofoam cups every year.
Most of this waste can’t be or isn’t recycled or composted. You know what that means: It ends up in landfills.
Please, do not get me started.
Luckily, I’ve been able to green-up my coffee-drinking habits substantially, both at work and at home.
Green is the New Black, No Cream, No Sugar, Thanks
Fortunately or unfortunately for me, my electric, drip coffee maker decided to bite the dust right as I started my zero-waste adventure at the beginning of the year. I started looking for the greenest possible alternative before the caffeine headaches and irritability kicked in.
Electric, drip coffee makers are neat and all, but they have their own set of problems. First, they’re made of plastic and electronics, which can’t be easily recycled when they inevitably meet a bitter end. (Bitter, like coffee, get it? I’m hilarious.) Also, they require paper filters. Even though you can compost them, these filters typically come wrapped in plastic, and manufacturing them produces waste.
I didn’t have to look far to do better. After a bit of searching, I found the new love of my life, a Chemex coffee carafe.
It’s made completely out of glass, and its holder is made of wood and leather—all materials that can be recycled or composted. Plus, it doesn’t rely on electronics to function, which means that all I have to do is not drop it on concrete to make it last forever. Once I run out of paper filters that I had left over from my old coffee maker, I’m planning to buy a reusable mesh filter or make my own reusable fabric filters.
But what about the coffee I put in it? I grind my own in the store and take it home in my own container. Zero waste, zero caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
She Works Hard for the Coffee
But what about at work? Unfortunately, many workplaces, including my own, have switched from brewing pots of coffee to the convenience of single-serve K cups or other coffee pods. These single-serve stimulant shots aren’t recyclable or biodegradable. In my own office of fewer than 100 employees, we throw away gallons of these pods every week. It’s estimated that there are nearly 100 billion K cups in landfills right now, and I’ve never heard a single person proclaim that their morning K cup was the best coffee they’ve ever had.
I quickly found a nearly zero-waste alternative among the small cohort of coffee snobs in my office. They share a communal AeroPress, a contraption similar to a French press, to brew individual cups of coffee.
The AeroPress uses a tiny paper filter that can be composted with the coffee grounds, a huge improvement over destroying the environment to get a quick caffeine fix. But that’s not all: I can confidently say it makes the best cup of office coffee I’ve ever consumed.
What Can You Do?
If you’re interested in being less of an asshole to the environment, greening up your coffee consumption is a great way to start.
- If you regularly go out for coffee, take a reusable cup with you. Most coffee shops, including Starbucks, will give you a discount for bringing your own container. Save the environment, get money.
- Buy coffee without packaging. Most coffee shops will sell fresh-ground coffee, or you can grind it yourself at your local grocery store. Bring your own container to store it in.
- Find ways to reduce waste when you make coffee yourself. Find a reusable mesh filter for your coffee maker, or fashion one from fabric if you’re feeling crafty.