In the U.S., we’re pretty much all about convenience when it comes to our daily dose(s) of caffeine and it’s led to some pretty wasteful habits. EcoWatch points out that Starbucks alone “goes through 4 billion to-go cups annually but most of them end up in the landfill. Why? Even though these cups are mostly made of paper, these single-use items are almost never recycled or composted because they are lined with plastic.”
I’d never dare come between you and you’re morning joe, but I will suggest 10 ways you can cut the crap out of your caffeine fix.
1. Make it at home…
Making coffee or tea at home means you can control how it’s made, what it’s made of, and avoid unnecessary disposable packaging. Oh, and you’ll save some serious bucks.
Here’s a little thought experiment for you: Let’s assume you stop to buy a Tall drip coffee from Starbucks for $2.10 every morning on your way to work (even though I bet you spend more). Let’s also assume (conservatively) that you get 30 cups of coffee out of a nice $18 12 oz. bag of coffee beans. That home-brewed coffee will cost you only 60 cents per cup. Meaning, in one year, you’ll save at least $390 (that’s a round trip ticket to some really nice vacation spots), but likely even more if you opt for less expensive beans or you’ve buying something fancier than your basic drip.
2. …but do NOT use disposable K-cups.
Hopefully this one comes as no surprise, but K-cups are terrible for our planet. So. Much. Non-recyclable. Plastic. So terrible that their creator has said, “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.” If you can’t bear the thought of parting with your Keurig, get yourself a reusable cup insert. If you still can’t bear the idea of the clean up, you can get biodegradable k-cup filters.
3. Make it naked…
If you’re a coffee lover, brew yourself a french press to cut out the unnecessary disposables. It may take a minute or two longer and a bit more focus, but you might just transform your morning coffee from a routine to a ritual. A richer more flavorful cup of coffee is waiting for you.
Tea drinkers, consider loose leaf diffusers. They come in all shapes and sizes. You can add a brewing basket, ball tea infuser, or a tea pincer right into your morning mug. You can also get a teapot, mug, or travel cup with a built-in infuser. If the lure of less waste and richer flavor isn’t enough for you to make the switch, consider the presence of toxic chemicals found in many tea bags:
“Some tea bags are made with plastic, such as nylon, thermoplastic, PVC or polypropylene. While these plastics have high melting points, the temperature at which the molecules in polymers begin to break down is always lower than the melting point, which could allow the bags to leach compounds of unknown health hazards into your tea when steeped in boiling water…[they are] frequently treated with epichlorophydrin, which hydrolyzes to 3-MCPD when contact with water occurs. 3-MCPD is a carcinogen associated with food processing that has also been implicated in infertility and suppressed immune function.”
4. …or pick your filters wisely.
If you want to stick to your traditional drip coffee makers, there’s still a solution for you: swap out coffee filters with chlorine-free (yeah, the ones you have might have some of that on there), compostable filters. Tea drinkers: you can also swap out your tea bags with the chlorine-free, compostable kind.
Want to get fancy? Make yourself the perfect pour over coffee with this guide (certified by my colleague, an ex-barista) using a Chimex or a ceramic coffee dripper. Pro move: pair them with a reusable, hemp filter. Or, use unbleached, biodegradable paper filters. Pro+ move: use a stainless steel pour over filter and make it naked.
5. Choose Fair or Direct Trade coffee or tea…
Ok, so now we’ve got you making your morning cup at home, naked, or with better disposables. The next one is about the beans and leaves themselves: buy Fair-Trade or Direct-Trade certified.
Fair-Trade: refers to a certification by Fair Trade USA. It ensures that the farmers behind the products are receiving fair labor conditions and minimum wages. The Fair Trade organization also helps farmers compete in global markets and provides “a framework for farms to increase their environmental sustainability.”
Direct-Trade: refers to roasters who buy their beans straight from the growers, cutting out the different middle men that typically sit between them (including certification institutions like Fair Trade). Often roasters will do this to develop a deeper, mutually-beneficial relationship with roasters, establish specific quality standards, all the while still setting minimum prices for the farmers. Intelligentsia is the pioneer of the Direct Trade movement within the coffee industry, but many others have followed on, including Counter Culture and Stumptown coffee roasters. Intelligentsia’s Direct Trade criteria is as follows:
Here’s a great table that compares the two. While both Fair and Direct Trade businesses aim to set standards that promote environmental and economic sustainability, more and more roasters are trending towards preferring Direct Trade because on top of all that, it also aims to yield more exceptional coffee.
6. …and compost your coffee grounds or tea leaves.
Don’t throw out all those grounds/tea leaves after you brew. Compost them or throw them in your garden as a fertilizer. The grounds can lower the pH of the soil, which is great for plants that grow well in acidic soil (azaleas, hydrangeas). It can also deter certain garden pests. Rather than running out to the garden every morning, get yourself an airtight container to collect the grounds throughout the week, and then do a big dump on the weekend.
Pro move: put out a composting container at the office and collect the grounds from all your coworkers throughout the week.
7. If you’re out and about, dine in and request a glass/ceramic cup.
In the U.S. we’ve built a tendency towards multi-tasking on the run, and our coffee shops are catering to it with a highly-efficient to-go service experience. If you jump over the pond to Europe, you’ll see a completely different picture: people sitting in cafes with tea reading a newspaper, or standing at a counter sipping ceramic espresso mugs; they’ve preserved the experience.
When you’re out and about, challenge yourself to take 15 minutes to dine in and enjoy your drink. And when you do, request a dine-in cup, because most cafes now default to to-go cups unless otherwise specified.
8. If you gotta run, say no to disposable cups…
If you really need to take it to-go, at least say no to the disposables. Bring your own travel mug or thermos. If you don’t have one yet, buy one that’s made of natural or recyclable materials. Want something designed by baristas with style in mind? Check out KeepCup.
9. …and plastic straws, stirrers and stoppers.
We consume enough straws in the U.S. on a daily basis to fill over 140 school buses…That’s enough to wrap around the Earth about 2.5 times. We can’t recycle plastic straws, stirrers and stoppers because they’re too small, which means they end up in our water or landfills, and they stay there for a very long time.
Take the pledge to stop using plastic straws, and kindly let businesses know why you’re refusing. Don’t worry, if you’re a straw lover. You can still slurp away with a glass or steel straw (I’d recommend glass because you can tell if it’s clean).
10. Pro move: ditch the creamers
Those little creamers you get at diners are loaded with preservative and funky chemicals, and come in non-recyclable plastic. If you need some dairy in your drink, be sure to find out whether it’s organic, otherwise you’re potentially facing a swath of hormones and other unknown additives.
What else have you done to cut out waste from your caffeine fix? Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.