How to Reduce Your Coffee Carbon Footprint

Caffeine Fixes are Not Young in American History

Coffee in America has come a long way since its introduction in 1607 thanks to John Smith. While coffee may be a popular caffeine fix today, that wasn’t always the case. Tea was preferred by many Americans throughout the 1600s and early 1700s. What ultimately helped boost the popularity of coffee was the Boston Tea Party.  Fast forward to today’s time, and coffee houses seem to be on nearly every city street corner. Since its introduction, not only have the brewing methods of coffee changed, but society has become more aware of coffee’s carbon footprint. If you would like to lower your own coffee carbon footprint, there are simple steps you can take. 

Coffee's Carbon Footprint

When it comes to lowering your cup of coffee’s carbon footprint, most of the changes can be made at home, or cafes. Coffee brewing is the second highest contributor of CO2 emissions throughout the coffee industry. Growing, harvesting, and processing is the top contributor based on the water and resources needed. However, brewing is not far behind the growing process in terms of emissions.. As a consumer, we have opportunities to brew coffee in more eco-friendly ways. Those options include the physical brewer we choose, brewing what we will consume, avoiding single-use cups, and how we dispose of the coffee grinds. 

Brewing With A Lower Carbon Footprint

When choosing a method to brew coffee, there are three things to remember: how much electricity is required, how much water is needed to clean it, and how much waste it creates. My go-to brewing methods for a lower carbon footprint are a French press or a stainless-steel screen placed on top of a mug. Larger brewers require single-use pods or filters, more parts to manufacture and replace, and added weight during shipping. Not to mention they’re harder to clean! French presses and pour-over screens also don’t require descaling, eliminating the need to purchase products in plastic packaging that need to be recycled. 

Drip Coffee with Confidece

Are coffee makers convenient? Yes, especially when you can program a brew cycle the night before and wake up to fresh coffee. It’s certainly a smaller footprint than driving to a coffee shop, idling in line at the drive-through, and the electricity and maintenance needed for commercial units. When choosing a brewing method, it’s balancing how small you want to make your footprint and what best fits into your lifestyle. 

If you prefer using a drip coffee or espresso maker, there are ways to lower your footprint. Small steps such as unplugging the unit when not in use and choosing re-usable pods or coffee filters can help. If upgrading your coffee maker, see if there are used or refurbished units available for sale rather than purchasing a brand-new item. Choosing a brewing method can have a considerable impact. But what about the coffee beans themselves?

Purchase Coffee With a Lower Carbon Footprint

Regarding food and beverages, I try to buy locally grown and made when I can. With coffee, purchasing locally grown beans isn’t an option, not unless you live in Hawaii, that is. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to choose coffee with a lower carbon footprint. While you may not be able to buy locally grown coffee, if you have a local roaster, purchasing on location reduces the fuel and packing needed to send it to a grocery store. If that isn’t something accessible to you, there are still things you can look for when browsing the grocery aisle. 

If your budget allows, purchase organic, fair trade, and Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee. Coffee companies certified through the Rainforest Alliance take steps to preserve rainforests, human rights, the climate, and local livelihoods. Looking for the organic seal, Fair-Trade mark, or Rainforest Alliance seal is a great way to choose responsibly sourced coffee. 

Another thing I keep in mind is where the packaging of my coffee will end up. If your grocery store has a bulk coffee bean section, using a refillable container is a fantastic way to lower your coffee carbon footprint. No packaging will end up in a landfill or require the energy to be recycled. If bulk bins are not available, look for packing that can be recycled, preferably a paper bag or a plastic jug if not paper.

Brew What You Will Drink, and Keep it Insulated!

The other major habit we can change about consuming coffee is only brewing what you will drink and how you travel with it. Brewing how much coffee you will drink is a slight change you can make. If you find yourself pouring half of your coffee down the drain or frequently reheating your mug in the microwave, try cutting how much you brew in half. Not only will this save water, but it will also save you some money on coffee. 

If, like me, you are the type of person who frequently warms your coffee, try replacing your mug with an insulated thermos. Even when I’m home, using a thermos practically eliminates sipping cold coffee. This trick also works well with iced coffee. The other nice thing about brewing directly into a thermos is that I have a coffee ready to go if I need to run a last-minute errand. 

Once Brewed, Compost The Coffee Grinds!

Another way to lower your coffee carbon footprint is to turn the brewed grinds into gardening soil. You can either add the grinds to a compost pile or mix them directly into garden soil as a fertilizer. If you end up using a disposable coffee pod, try to find pods made of recyclable plastic. Then, follow the directions of the pod’s manufacturer to remove the grinds from the pod and compost them. After composting the grinds, you can add the pod with the rest of your recyclable plastic. 

I’d love to hear what methods you use to lower your coffee carbon footprint. Whether it’s a favorite brewing method,  a thermos you don’t leave the house without, or a favorite brand of eco-friendly coffee you enjoy! 

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