Coffee has one of the biggest carbon footprints of our daily plant-based products. This is mainly due to changes in land use: the more coffee we drink the more space is needed to grow the beans. As the plants require a very specific climate to thrive, tropical forests are in many places forced out of the way.
Other environmental factors that can also linked back to carbon emissions are the huge amount of water that is needed to grow coffee and the more and more industrialised way of farming the beans.
The use of pesticides and creation of mono-cultures is also bad news for the local soil quality and biodiversity.
Rethink your coffee habits
The first step is to reduce the number of coffees you’re drinking per day. Switch to regular or herbal tea or steep herbs like fresh mint or lemon verbena in hot water for a refreshing pick-me-up!
Also, have a look at how you make your coffee: Are you making a big pot everyday and then end up pouring some of it away? Why not try other means of making coffee like an AeroPress or French Press to help you make only the amount of coffee you’re actually going to drink.
If you take your coffee with milk, consider going dairy-free. By cutting out the animal product your coffee will have a far smaller carbon footprint. There are a lot of tasty vegan alternatives available. Why not try them out? You can read all about the environmental impact of plant-based milks compared in this Guardian article.
Buy certified coffee
As explained above, a major issue with coffee is the effect it has on deforestation and biodiversity. Buying certified coffee can help to reduce this effect. The Rainforest Alliance or Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center both award certifications to products that are especially good in this regard, and organic certification is also strong on promoting biodiversity. Fairtrade beans are good too but don’t have quite as high standards in regards to biodiversity.
Another big factor in our everyday coffee habits is waste. One obvious factor are single use cups. An Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report from 2017 indicates that “2.5 billion coffee cups are used and thrown away each year in the UK […] but less than 1 in 400 – just 0.25% – are recycled.” There is now a trend toward more recyclable or even compostable coffee cups, but even these will always have a higher environmental impact than a reusable cup or mug. So the mantra is: If you have to get a coffee – use a reusable cup!
Another growing source of waste (and carbon emissions) are so called single-serve capsules. These are offered by Nespresso and other brands for a ‘quick and easy’ way of making coffee at home. The issue is that the production and recycling of these capsules is in fact anything but quick and easy – it is energy and resource intensive. Best to avoid the capsules altogether. But if you must use a machine like that try switching to a more sustainable version, like using compostable pods.
Reuse or recycle your grounds
The easiest way to recycle your coffee grounds is by placing them in your food compost bin. If you have a garden you may also want to use them as fertiliser. Coffee shops and other producers of high volumes of grounds can also participate in recycling schemes like Cambridge Food Hub’s Green Coffee Shop Scheme and Coffee Recycling Co.
Perfect Daily Grind has produced this very informative article about how you can make your coffee habits more sustainable.