How to make your coffee routine sustainable using our favorite low-impact brewing methods

How to make your coffee routine sustainable using our favorite low-impact brewing methods
To celebrate World environment day (and beyond), we consumers can choose from many achievable steps toward lessening our impact on Mother Earth. One of those steps can involve our daily coffee ritual. From seed to cup, coffee presents us with an array of choices that we can make with sustainably in mind. Here are some easy low-impact suggestions for buying, brewing, consuming, and discarding your coffee supplies. 

Buy sustainable & transparent beans 
Most importantly, start by being picky about your beans. Consumers are mainly confronted with the “visible waste” (such as plastic packaging and leftovers) generated when we use products, and it’s easier to turn a blind eye to the environmental and social externalities generated much earlier along in the value chain. However, in general, the impact of a product's visible waste is much smaller than that generated during its production. So, make sure to buy from coffee companies that treat their environment and employees with respect; Fairtrade, Bird-Friendly, shade-grown, Organic, and Regenerative Organic are great certifications to look for when purchasing coffee and other agricultural goods. 

Sometimes certifications and labels don’t tell the whole story. Look for “transparent coffee” from companies that can prove their direct relationships with farmers and low environmental impact through transparency reports (like our 2022 Put in the Work Report).

Lastly, when possible, buy from local roasters to reduce the carbon footprint and waste associated with transportation.

Think before brewing!
Planning ahead might sound like a no-brainer, but only brewing as much coffee as you’ll drink is more important than you might think.
Coffee farming requires a ton of labor, irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, and various other inputs (hopefully all organic and low-impact). Therefore, conserving coffee itself overrides almost all other sustainability concerns. The most effective way consumers can reduce the carbon footprint of coffee consumption is by avoiding wasting coffee and water


Brew with low-waste supplies

  • Choose coffee filters wisely: Although most coffee filters are made from paper, they’re often chlorine bleached and end up in landfills where the chemicals seep into the environment. Choose unbleached filters or ones made from more sustainable materials such as bamboo. 
  • Instead of heating water on the stove, use an electric kettle, as it's twice as energy efficient.
  • Drink from reusable glassware and mugs: Despite tossing your to-go cup in the recycling bin, less than 0.25% of disposable cups are recyclable. That means that 399 of every 400 cups end up in a landfill, where the plastic, styrofoam, or other non-recyclable materials hidden in the cup could take centuries to degrade. 

Pick your favorite sustainable brewer(s)

For any type of brewer, look for glass, ceramic, stainless steel, or other non-plastic materials.

  • Many types of cold brew contraptions exist, including those with reusable stainless steel filters and glass carafes. Since you steep the coffee grounds in cold water, cold brew requires virtually no energy! It does require some forethought since it takes around 18 hours to steep. 
  • A French press uses minimal energy (just for heating water) and makes virtually no waste since it doesn’t require disposable coffee filters. Instead, its reusable mesh filter can last for years with proper care and the carafe is usually made of glass or stainless steel. Plus, a high-quality French press can last much longer than a typical coffee maker.
  • A moka pot, or stove-top percolator, is one of the lowest-impact brewers because they require no additional materials. High-quality stovetop coffee makers like the moka pot can last for more than 10 years. The downside is that you’re stuck using a less-efficient stove instead of an electric kettle.
  • Pour-over, Chemex and Aeropress brewers are all great options for making very precise brews. These brewers can take paper filters (which can be made from compostable materials) as well as stainless steel filters that are available for most models. Some pour-over contraptions are even made of sustainable wood
  • Traditional drip coffee machines actually require less energy to make coffee than any other option on this list—even less than using an electric kettle to boil water. Brewing up to 5 cups of coffee uses as little as 550 - 900 watts. Traditional coffee machines can last between 3-10 years, so try to find one made out of durable materials and with a reusable filter. 
  • Steeped Coffee bags are made out of compostable, plant-based, renewable materials. However, if the coffee company packages Steeped bags in synthetic materials that can't be composted, the option is not quite sustainable. (Try some of our Steeped Sumatra or Bitches Brew!)

Compost the waste

Coffee grounds are a great addition to compost because they’re high in a key component of healthy soil, nitrogen. You can also soak the grounds in cold water for a few hours then use the water as a nitrogen fertilizer. If you chose a compostable coffee filter, remember to toss that in the compost too! 

Now, you can finally enjoy every sip :) 

A quick reminder why single-use pods are the worst way to make coffee… 

Not only are single-use coffee pod machines made of cheap plastic, but the pods themselves are a massive source of waste. Of the 39,000 coffee pods that are produced every minute, an estimated 29,000 end up in a landfill. Take 2014, for example, when 13 billion K-Cups went into landfills. Once there, the aluminum-based pods take hundreds of years to decompose, and the plastic lids persist much longer. Aluminum coffee pods aren’t straightforward to recycle like soda cans; since they’re made from a combination of aluminum and plastic and filled with grounds, it falls on consumers to meticulously separate the compostable grounds from the recyclable plastic and aluminum. Many coffee brands offer pod collection bins, but driving to them adds another factor to the carbon footprint. Even if you put in the effort, beware that some brands put recycling symbols on their pod packaging when in reality they can't often be recycled. There is some hope, as several coffee brands are creating reusable, biodegradable, and compostable pod alternatives. 

Written by 
Melina Devoney 
Barista, Coffee Captain, Blogger