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Plastic-Free Living

Your Guide To A Sustainable Cup Of Coffee

February 19, 2020


Written by: Clare Cogan, Customer Experience @blueland

Is coffee part of your morning routine? If so, you’re not alone. Over 63% of Americans drink at least two cups of coffee every day, and around the world there are 2.25 billion cups of coffee consumed per day. Coffee has been a staple in certain communities for centuries, but since the 1970’s coffee production has become less and less sustainable. We’ll walk you through coffee production and help you source the most sustainable coffee and give you tips on how to keep your coffee low-waste when you brew at home!

How Is Coffee Produced?

Coffee is typically grown in warm climates to cool subtropical climates, the majority of coffee is produced in Central and Latin American and subtropical regions of Africa. Traditionally, coffee is grown under the shade of tree canopies. Shade-grown coffee can grow without the presence of fertilizers and pesticides, as the natural biodiversity that lives beneath the trees serves as natural fertilizer for coffee beans. Shade-grown coffee is a sustainable way to grow coffee, as it keeps nutrients in the soil, and maintains a habitat suitable for biodiversity. However, as the demand for coffee grew, a more efficient way to grow coffee was developed.

Sun grown coffee is another method to grow coffee. Coffee produced in the sun-grown method is exposed to direct sunlight, which means the tree canopies have to be cleared away. This requires significant deforestation to clear enough land for coffee plantations. When trees are cleared for the coffee plantations, the organisms and animals that live under the canopy can no longer live there, and the soil loses its natural fertilizers. As a result, many sun-grown coffee plantations have to rely on fertilizer and pesticides to keep the crops growing. Just in Central America, 2.5 million acres of land were cleared for coffee plantations. Coffee also takes a significant amount of water to grow. It can take up to 1.4 liters of water to produce a single cup of coffee.

There are ways to find coffee that is grown sustainably! The certifications below can help you navigate the best coffee to buy for you and for the environment.

Sustainable Coffee Certifications

There are two certifications that coffee companies can have that signal coffee is produced sustainably, The Rainforest Alliance Certification, and the Smithsonian Institute Bird Friendly Coffee Certification. Coffee that’s certified by the Rainforest Alliance has to adhere to the Sustainable Agriculture standards set by the Rainforest Alliance. These include biodiversity conservation, improved livelihood for workers, natural resource conservation and farm planning and management. The Bird Friendly Coffee certification signifies that coffee farms produce shade-grown coffee, and thus protect the biodiversity of the forest.

Additional certifications your might see are Certified Organic or Fair Trade Certified. Certified Organic coffee means it was grown without the use of any pesticides or herbicides. This means, Certified Organic isn’t introducing harmful chemicals into the environment. Fair Trade Certified means that in every part of the supply chain, from farm to fulfillment, are meeting a high standard of fairness. Fair Trade certifications relate the working conditions for farmers and workers and do not indicate the sustainability of coffee production. Purchasing coffee with one of these certifications is one way you can make your coffee experience more sustainable, and there are even more ways you can stay sustainable with your cup of coffee!

Plastic-Free Coffee Packaging

One more thing to look out for when purchasing coffee is the packaging. A lot of coffee beans and grounds come in plastic bags that can’t be recycled. Shiny plastic paper and even some paper packaged coffee can’t be recycled because of the plastic lining inside. Instead, look for compostable packaging from brands like Verve Coffee, Ritual Coffee and Red Rooster. Their packaging can be composted, which cuts out additional packaging waste.

If you purchase your coffee with an online subscription, be wary of the way your coffee is shipped. It could add an additional layer of plastic packaging to your coffee routine. Look for brands and subscription services that will ship your coffee plastic-free. Trade Coffee offers coffee subscriptions and they ship their coffee in compostable packaging. With a Trade subscription, you can purchase coffee where both the primary packaging for the beans and the secondary packaging for shipping is compostable! Driftaway coffee also offers a completely plastic-free coffee subscription. Their coffee beans are packaged in compostable paper and it’s labeled with a 100% compostable adhesive label. In addition, they ship their coffee in compostable mailer. If you purchase your coffee on Amazon, you can request no plastic packaging for your coffee and all other Amazon purchases! Chat the Amazon customer service team and request no more plastic packaging. They will add your request to your profile and all of your subsequent orders will be shipped with no additional plastic packaging!

How To Sustainably Brew Coffee At Home

  • Choose Your Coffee Maker Wisely

An easy way to keep your coffee routine sustainable is with your coffee maker. The most sustainable options are pour over coffee and French press coffee. These two coffee making methods require little energy, and if you use a reusable filter, they don’t generate any additional waste. If you prefer a quicker option, traditional drip coffee, Keurig and Nespresso machines can be made more sustainable. For drop coffee machines, using a reusable coffee filter is a great way to brew without the additional waste from a paper filter. For Keurig and Nespresso machines, ditch the single-use pods. Though some of these pods can be recycled, it’s difficult to do so, and requires an additional trip to the store. These pods are also expensive! You can buy reusable pods instead, and use your own environmentally sourced coffee grounds to fill reusable pods!

  • Compost Your Grounds

Once you’ve brewed your coffee, how do you dispose of the coffee grounds? Composting coffee grounds is a great way to sustainable get rid of your grounds, and it’s really easy! Coffee grounds make a great base for an at-home compost pile, as they already contain some moisture. Don’t have compost at home? Not to worry! You can find a local compost facility to drop off your compost by doing a quick online search. Until you’re ready to drop off your grounds, store them in the freezer to keep any smells at bay.

  • Grab A Reusable Cup

You’re all ready to go with your cup of Joe, but make sure you take your coffee in a reusable cup. Around 16 billion single-use paper coffee cups are thrown out every year. Be sure to cut those out of your routine!

With these tips, you can keep drinking the cup of coffee you love, and give love to the planet!


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