I couldn’t live without my morning cup (okay, more like cups, plural) of coffee. It’s just about the only thing that motivates me to leave my warm bed in the mornings, and it is a faithful and welcome companion during endless meetings or ugly traffic.
But as with any habit, I sometimes find myself getting wasteful with my coffee. I’ll brew a whole pot, only to drink a single cup. I’ll forget my travel mug and have to use a disposable cup. And, I’ll admit, for a few years I had a Keurig.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to green my morning coffee, and I realized that there are a lot of small (and larger!) changes that I can make to make my habit more sustainable and energy-efficient. Here’s how.
1. Choose coffee wisely. There is a dizzying variety of coffee certification labels out there: fair trade, rainforest alliance, organic, bird-friendly… Read up on the different certifications and decide which is most important to you (good.is has a handy breakdown).
2. Buy in bulk, if possible. Coffee is a grocery item that is very widely available in bulk, which is a super eco-friendly way of buying since it minimizes packaging. As a bonus, this coffee is often fresher than that sold in cans or sealed bags, as long as you buy from a source that looks like it sells a lot. If you purchase from a small retailer or a coffee shop, they might even be willing to fill your own container so you don’t waste the bag. If you don’t buy in bulk, you can still minimize packaging by purchasing the largest possible bags of coffee (look for big bags at warehouse clubs, for instance). Coffee snobs will tell you that coffee should be as fresh as possible, so you should buy it more frequently, but as long as it’s stored in a cool, dark location, it should stay fresh for awhile. The National Coffee Association has some good tips on coffee storage, including tips on storing large quantities.
3. Skip the single-serve. Pod and capsule systems like Keurig makers are not very eco-friendly because many of these are not recyclable, or they’re difficult to recycle. Keurig K-cups are not yet recyclable (Although it is an issue the company appears to be working on), and Nespresso capsules are recyclable, but they need to be taken to collection points. What’s more, certain models of these machines are designed to be powered on for a large portion of the day so that the water will stay warm, ready to be brewed at a moment’s notice. This, of course, wastes energy.
4. Use an energy-saving brewing method and eco-friendly machine. The folks at Inhabitat did a great analysis of the most eco-friendly coffee brewing method, and it appears that non-electric brewers, such as French press, Chemex, or Aeropress are the best, since they don’t use electricity (Of course, you still need to use gas or electricity to heat up the water). Even greener, if you don’t mind drinking your coffee cold, is a cold-brew coffee maker, which doesn’t use hot water. Bonus: these methods are often considered by coffee experts to brew the best-tasting cup. If you can’t part with your electric drip coffee maker, at least get a thermal carafe, which will keep your coffee hot for hours without leaving the maker on.
5. Taking your coffee to go? By now hopefully you are conditioned to use a travel mug rather than a disposable cup. Stash an extra one in your car for impromptu trips to the coffee shop, and label your travel mugs with your name and phone number in case they get lost. If you're a knitter, use leftover yarn from a project to knit up a coffee cozy. It’ll keep your mug warm, and if you do end up using a cardboard cup, you can at least skip the disposable coffee sleeve.
6. Compost used grounds. If you’re a gardener, don’t trash those spent coffee grounds! They can be composted or incorporated straight-up into the garden, where they impart all sorts of benefits: they add nitrogen to soil or compost, they can act as a barrier to keep slugs and snails out of the garden, and they are great food for a worm bin.