making coffee sustainable

Looking to make your daily coffee habit a bit more sustainable? We’ve got you covered! I’ve spent a lot of time researching this for myself, since I’m basically obsessed with coffee. But who isn’t?

I was surprised about how many ways there are to have a more sustainable coffee habit, and they aren’t hard changes to make. I’ve made these changes over time and I promise these aren’t hard or expensive.

So why should we care about coffee sustainability? Well, for one, coffee consumption is growing faster than the world’s population, with people consuming 10 million tons per year (EHN). So it makes perfect sense for us to dive into the impacts of this and how we can make our daily coffee habit more sustainable.

Ditch Single-Use Coffee Cups

Single-use coffee cups are a huge contributor to waste each year. EarthDay.org reported that 16 billion disposable cups are used and thrown away each year. Many people aren’t aware of the fact that these are not recyclable due to the inside plastic coating of the cups.

So if you’re a coffee shop regular, one of the best things you can do is to bring your own coffee cup each visit. Not only are you reducing waste, you also might get a BYO cup discount from the barista. There are many types of reusable coffee cups, but this silicone and glass cup from JOCO is one of my favorites.

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Support Shade Grown, Fair Trade Coffee

Coffee was originally grown in shaded canopies, but as the industry grew manufacturers began clearing forests and destroying animal and plant habitats to keep up with demand. This has already resulted in 2.5 million acres of forest in Central America destroyed to date, with more deforestation continuing regularly according to the WWF.

When you you purchase shade grown coffee, you’re buying coffee from plants grown naturally interspersed beneath local forest trees. This natural process prevents habitat destruction.

Along with shade-grown labels, it is important to consider fair trade certified coffee to ensure coffee farmers are getting a fair wage for their hard work. Fair trade certified coffee also ensures farmers have safe working conditions and strictly prohibits the use of forced child labor.

Have a Pod Coffee Maker? Get a Reusable Pod

You’re probably aware of the huge plastic waste problem that single-use K-cups and other coffee pods produce. So maybe you recycle them to lessen the damage? Sadly, single-use pods are difficult to recycle (clogging up recycling equipment due to their small size) and end up getting trashed, often breaking down in rivers, lakes, and oceans.

If you can’t stand to give up your Keurig or Nespresso machine, know that you can use reusable stainless steel options. You can fill them with any ground coffee of your choice, and will be eliminating the massive amount of plastic coffee pod waste.

I used this stainless steel K-cup for years until my Keurig died and I switched to this filterless pour-over method.

Consider Non-Dairy Creamers

We’ve discussed the environmental impacts of dairy here (TLDR: the impacts are pretty significant). Did you know that according to EcoWatch, milk represents 60-70% of the carbon footprint of a cup of coffee if a few tablespoons are used, and 80-90% if used in a latte.

Wow. So what can you use instead?

We compared all of the non-dairy milks’ impacts here, and it turns out oat milk has one of the best footprints. And bonus, out of all of the non-dairy milks I’ve tried in my coffee, oat milk is the creamiest and the most similar to milk. In a latte, it’s pretty spot-on.

No matter what non-dairy milk you choose, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint by at least 3X when compared to using cow’s dairy.

Use a Pour-Over or French Press

If you’re in need of a new coffee maker, you can switch from a more power-hungry coffee maker to a French press or pour-over method. When standard coffee makers are plugged in, they suck “phantom power” even when they’re not in use.

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Using a French press or pour over method can also eliminate the need for disposable coffee filters, further reducing your daily waste. I love my Able Kone for our pour-over Chemex and 100% recommend it for the most “coffee-shop quality” cup of coffee.

Compost Your Coffee Grounds

When you compost your coffee grounds, you’ll be reducing your landfill food waste that unfortunately does not biodegrade.

Your plants will thank you for it. Don’t have plants but your city composts? Just toss those grinds right in (minus the filter unless it’s compostable).

Try Cutting Back a Cup or Two

This is not the most fun option on this list, but it’s worth considering. The carbon footprint of one cup of black coffee is 21 grams of CO2, so if you’re able to cut down a few cups a week you can easily reduce the overall impacting coffee production has on the environment. By reducing your consumption, you’re also reducing water usage, electricity usage, and shipping emissions.

If you’re thinking about cutting down considerably, be sure to wean down safely to avoid any painful caffeine withdrawals.

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While you certainly don’t have to make all of these changes with your coffee routine, consider doing one or a few to easily decrease your coffee carbon footprint. I can tell you from experience, the changes are easy and do make a difference when more people do them.

What other ideas do you have to make drinking coffee more sustainable? Please share them in the comments!

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