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13 Ideas for a More Sustainable Coffee Habit

Coffee is one of the greatest little joys in life, amirite?

At home, we have a hybrid coffee approach. During the week, we use our Nespresso machine with aluminum pods to make one cup of coffee with a reusable mug for easy-to-go coffee. On the weekends, we prefer to grind whole beans and make a traditional pot of coffee for a loungier morning with multiple cups. Today, UnMake Your Mark aims to give you ideas for taking your current daily caffeinated practices and eco-ify them just a little.

1. Make Coffee at Home

Brewing at home is much more sustainable than grabbing daily drive-thru coffee for the environment and your wallet. Wanna hear a yucky secret? Most single-use coffee cups and lids ARE NOT recyclable. Definitely not, if it is a styrofoam cup, and even the cups from Sbux are coated with polyethylene (plastic) on the inside, making them V challenging to recycle. Unfortunately, due to greenwashing, many people think these cups are recyclable. Hey Sbux, that’s a latte waste. 

Coffee at home

2. Bring Your Own Cup

50 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year in the U.S. alone. If you decide to stop at your local coffee shop, most allow you to bring your reusable mug or tumbler. It may feel weird at first, but once you do it a few times, like most things, it becomes commonplace. Also, if you like to fill up at a gas station, it’s super easy to use a reusable cup! Keep a cup in your car so you have it in a pinch. 

3. Buy Local Beans

Buying local anything is a sustainable practice because it decreases transportation needed to move the goods, thus reducing emissions from fuel thus reducing your #carbonfootprint. Check out farmer’s markets for local coffee beans, and if you don’t have a grinder, often, vendors will grind it right there for you. 

4. Bring a Reusable Bag for Beans to the Store

Most grocery stores have coffee in bulk. They have paper bags for bulk coffee, but those are often coated in a waxy material that may be hard to recycle. But if you have a canvas or cloth bag, you can use that for your whole beans. This coffee grinder is small but mighty; I’ve used it for years. If you LOVE the smell of coffee, grinding your own at home is undoubtedly a treat for the olfactory system. 

Bulk Coffee

5. Buy Plastic-Free Coffee Filters

News flash, white bleached coffee filters have toxins that leach into your coffee. The most common by-product is dioxin. Of course, someone has determined that small amounts of this toxin are okay for humans to ingest (oof), but the reality is that it’s a severe and dangerous pollutant. If you are moving towards more non-toxic living, plenty of non-toxic alternatives exist. These filters by If You Care are biodegradable and toxin-free. 

6. Shop Circular Coffee Pods

K-Cups are recyclable IF you peel off the aluminum foil top. Toss the grounds, aluminum top, and paper filter, rinse the plastic pod and add it to your recycling bin. Seems like a lot of work to me.

Nescafe is similar to the K-cup as you can recycle parts of the pod, but they also accept the pods back through a TerraCycle program

Nespresso prefers you do a store drop-off (specific locations) or mail them back as-is for free. Their pods are made of aluminum and are fully circular if sent back to the company. See here for Nespresso’s pod recycling program. 

More info on coffee pods here: Consumer Report

Coffee Pods

7. Use a Manual Coffee Maker

Coffee aficionados unite. The two most popular manual apparatuses are the french press and the pour-over or drip method. These are primarily non-electric methods (other than heating the water). These methods are probably the closest to zero waste coffee because no pods or coffee filters are needed: just the apparatus, the grinds, and water. Pourover coffee is also a popular method for camping. Give it a try; brew can do it!

French Press

8. Use Non-Dairy Milk

Most current research proves that consuming plants impacts the earth much less than consuming animals and their by-products. Millions of cows emit (via burping and passing gas) a lot of methane gas, significantly contributing to #globalwarming. Non-dairy milk also has a climate impact, like cows (ie. water, land-use, etc.); however, it seems to be much less. This article, “Which Plant Based Milk is Better for the Environment,” breaks down all plant-based milk, including oat, pistachio, soy, rice, almond, hemp, cashew, etc. I still have not learned to love black coffee. 

9. Buy Fair Trade

What is fair-trade coffee? It means that the coffee’s supply chain has met specific sustainability and labor standards requirements. It’s no shocker that these brands are NOT fair-trade: Folgers, Maxwell House, Nescafe, Dunkin Donuts, Keurig, and Seattle’s Best. They don’t use ethical or sustainable practices required of fair trade, plus they are known for using herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. Blind consumption of main shelf items is what we are accustomed to, but these giant companies are not always looking out for humans or the earth. Depresso. 

Fair Trade Coffee

10. Save Leftover Coffee for Iced Coffee

I usually put my leftover coffee in the fridge, not down the drain! Then later that day, I have cold coffee to pour over ice with a bit of milk. Cool beans! You could also freeze it and use the coffee ice cubes for non-watery ice coffee. Here are a ton of other ideas for leftover coffee

11. Compost Your Coffee Grounds

Did you know you can use coffee grounds as an exfoliator, garden fertilizer, kitchen scrub, or pest control? You can even use it to scrub your hands after cutting onions or fish to remove the odor. There are so many incredible uses for coffee grounds; my number one tip is to avoid putting it inside a plastic trash bag where it won’t biodegrade quickly and will increase emissions in the landfill. 

Coffee grounds

12. Use Vinegar + Water to Clean your Coffee Machine

Here’s how. Fill up your coffee pot or water reservoir with a mixture of 1/2 water and 1/2 white vinegar, then run a cleaning cycle. Afterward, I do run another final cycle through the machine with just filtered water to rinse out the vinegar smell. That’s it!!! A non-toxic and nifty, easy way to clean any coffee apparatus. Also, you usually get a lot of gunky stuff out, which is fun to examine. Try it today!

13. Unplug Your Coffee Machine When Not in Use

You don’t have to do this if you use the clock or have the coffee set on a timer to brew early in the AM, but if you have a pod machine with no clock, there’s no reason to keep it plugged in all of the time. I’m in the habit of unplugging my Nespresso machine from the wall as soon as my cup is ready. 

You certainly do not have to put all of these ideas into practice, but if we all chose just a few – think of the impact. I am going to finish up my delicious cup of coffee now. I hope these tips give you an idea of how to have a more sustainable coffee routine and how to remove everyday toxins from your life.