It's more than just the cups: how to minimise the environmental impact of your coffee habit

By now we all know that the vast quantity of disposable coffee cups consumed each day is horribly degrading to the environment. The cups are mostly not recyclable, not biodegradable and need to be made out of fresh pulp (read: not recycled paper!). But did you know that your everyday cup of joe also has environmental impacts beyond the vessel you drink it from?

The actual production of the coffee beans themselves can be very harmful to the environment. It is generally a lot less expensive to produce sun-grown coffee beans rather than shade-grown coffee beans. But sun-grown coffee beans deplete the soil of it's nutrients and render it unusable after 15 years of cultivation, so the area is abandoned and a new patch of land is used to start the process again from scratch, causing the land to loose its critical biodiversity and become unused desert land. Sun-grown beans also require a lot more use of water to keep the plants well irrigated, and they also need plenty of fertilizers and fungicides, making coffee the third most heavily sprayed crop in the world. In the production of coffee, the skin and pulp of the coffee fruit is removed and discarded. This is usually done through wet processing, which involves even more water usage and contaminated wastewater.

Then we should also consider the notorious coffee pod capsules which have become increasingly more common as Nespresso popularised their quick and convenient novel way of consuming a traditional drink. Coffee pods now make up one third of Western Europe's coffee consumption. These capsules are non-recyclable and not biodegradable as they are made out of polluting and potentially toxic aluminium.  Their biggest threat is generating more waste than is necessary to brew a simple cup of coffee. And the environmental impact is significant - so much so that the City of Hamburg has banned the buying of these products with city council money.

But don't be distressed, you don't have to give up that daily cup of coffee to help save the planet. There are plenty of ways to reduce the environmental impact of your drink, and in the process enjoy a much nicer cup of coffee. Here are some tips for how to minimise your impact:

  • Most importantly - always use your reusable coffee cup! Prevent more cups from sitting in landfills and help stop using up precious, finite resources

  • Switch to organic and fair trade coffee - this means the coffee crops will be sprayed with less chemicals, which will in turn help retain the biodiversity of the land the crops grow on. Fair trade assures you that the farmers who worked hard to grow this crop are paid fairly. If we're concerned about the environment we should also be concerned for the welfare of the people who grow our coffee

  • Drink shade-grown coffee - this is how coffee has always grown naturally, and how it should continue growing. Not only is it of better quality, but requires less watering than sun-grown coffee and doesn't require fertilisers or chemicals to grow. It's grown just the way nature intended

  • Learn to easily brew your own coffee rather than use capsules and pods - it's shockingly easy to brew a batch of French press coffee, just as easy as making a cup of tea! And it's incredibly delicious, too!

  • Compost your coffee grounds - the nutrients in the left-over coffee grounds are great for vegetation!

  • Use a reusable coffee filter - or be sure to get a compostable one that you can just chuck into your compost bin along with your coffee grounds! As a bare minimum, make sure the filter isn't bleached, so you're not polluting the environment and consuming toxic bleach yourself

  • Get glowing skin - use your left-over coffee grounds as a facial exfoliant

  • Start baking - coffee flour is becoming a more readily available gluten-free flour alternative. Not only is it healthy, but it's also made out of coffee fruit pulp. The fruit pulp is sometimes seen as the most environmentally destructive part of the coffee production process so repurposing this otherwise wasted by-product keeps it from contaminating water sources

  • Heat your home with coffee logs - now you can use your left over coffee grounds to heat your home if you use real wood-burning fireplaces in your home

We hope we haven't scared you too much from enjoying your coffee. In fact, we hope we've educated you and inspired you to become more knowledgable consumers. If we're aware of our environmental impact, we're more able to make a difference. It may seem burdensome to do so much research into the background of everything that we consume, but this is how we become more mindful of both our consumption habits and of the far-reaching consequences of our carbon footprint.

Do you have any more tips for how to consume coffee consciously? Please share them below with us. We'll be sure to update this post with your tips and tricks!

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