How to Make an Eco-Friendly Cup of Coffee
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It’s safe to say that Americans love their morning brew — and several cups throughout the day, too.
The National Coffee Data Trends 2022 report by the National Coffee Association (NCA) discovered that Americans consume 517 million cups of coffee daily — equal to 3.1 cups per person.
However, environmentally-conscious consumers might be disappointed to know that their coffee drinking habits are likely unsustainable. For one thing, coffee production is notorious for deforestation, contamination, reduced soil quality, and accumulating astronomical amounts of waste.
Fortunately, there’s a solution. Follow these seven steps to learn how to make an eco-friendly cup of coffee.
1. Make Coffee at Home
It’s convenient to stop at the Starbucks drive-thru on the way to work or for a mid-day pick-me-up, but making coffee at home is undoubtedly more eco-friendly.
Consider how the transportation sector accounted for 27% of emissions in the United States in 2020. Of this, 57% came from light-duty vehicles.
You can significantly help cut emissions by making coffee at home — especially if you’re a remote worker.
2. Use Ethically-Sourced and Local Beans
Support local farmers and businesses by shopping for locally-roasted beans. A bonus, of course, is fewer emissions from the need for global shipping.
Otherwise, look for ethically-sourced beans to ensure your coffee is environmentally friendly. Ethical or fair trade coffee ensures farmers are paid equitably for the work of producing coffee sustainably.
Things to look for when determining if a coffee brand is ethically sourced include:
- Suspiciously low prices — a telltale sign that farmers’ compensation is too low
- Packaging is direct about the coffee source
- The brand offers transparency and traceability to the farm, grower, and salary earned for production
- Sold in recyclable or biodegradable packaging
- Labels indicate Fair Trade or B Corporation certification
- The brand proudly shares its mission of providing ethically-sourced coffee
Always be aware of brands that resort to greenwashing. Since 23% of global emissions derive from manufacturing and production, holding companies accountable for unsustainable practices is essential.
3. Skip the Keurig
The invention of Keurig and Nespresso has made coffee brewing more effortless than ever before. Unfortunately, these pod systems aren’t very sustainable.
Most coffee pods aren’t recyclable and end up in landfills. Unless you’re using a reusable capsule for your coffee grounds, it’s best to skip the single-serve cup of coffee and use an alternative method.
4. Brew Manually
Speaking of alternative methods, your coffee maker is essentially an appliance that uses energy in your home. To reduce energy consumption, manually brew a coffee with the pour-over method.
Unlike a drip coffee maker, coffee instruments like Chemex, French press, and Origami brew a precise cup of coffee, allowing you to decrease the amount of leftover coffee waste from the machine.
Additionally, machines can break down quickly, whereas manual brewing instruments tend to last much longer without needing to be replaced.
5. Opt for a Reusable Cup
The global population produced 350 million tons of plastic waste in 2020, half of which went to overflowing landfills or the ocean.
If you’re making an eco-friendly cup of coffee at home, using an actual mug is much more sustainable than a single-use cup.
Likewise, if you’re heading out the door, bring a reusable cup of homemade coffee with you. That way, you don’t have to stop at a coffee shop and generate more waste with a non-biodegradable or non-recyclable cup and lid.
6. Add a Dairy Alternative
You might not have considered it before, but the creamer you use could make or break your coffee’s eco-friendliness.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), beef and cattle milk accounts for 41% and 20% of total livestock emissions, respectively, worldwide. Therefore, plant-based dairy alternatives are a more sustainable choice.
Whether you prefer almond, oat, soy, or hemp milk, your cup of coffee will be far more sustainable than it would typically. For instance, almond milk yields the least greenhouse gas emissions at 0.7% and land change, but oat milk requires significantly less water — compare 48.24 liters of water for oat milk to 371.46 liters for almond milk.
7. Compost With Coffee Grounds
Rather than throw used grounds in the trash or toss them down the drain, give them a second life by composting them. Coffee grounds are excellent for building healthy, fertile soil for your garden.
Don’t have a compost bin? Simply bury some around the base of each plant to supercharge their growth.
Save the Planet One Cup of Coffee at a Time
It takes little effort to make an eco-friendly cup of coffee. Even if it requires a few extra minutes, it’s worth it for a more sustainable earth. Just remember to clean your mug with green cleaning solutions afterward.
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About the author
Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of Environment.co. A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.