Reducing waste through upcycling, repurposing, refashioning and reloving.

Trimming my waste: Week 4 (zero-waste coffee)


Goals - Week 4:
  1. Look for ways to make my coffee habit more environmentally friendly
  2. Make less trash
  3. Repurpose more
Stretch goal: pay more to buy locally roasted, fair-trade coffee.

Coffee is a high-impact commodity. Never mind how and where the crop is grown. Just consider what happens in your own kitchen: the water used to make it and clean up, the electricity used by your automatic coffee maker that is plugged in all day, the paper filters that are thrown away after one use, the finished grounds sitting in landfills, the non-recyclable paper cups tossed into waste bins and so on.

Now think about all that and multiply it by 400 million – the average number of cups consumed per day in the U.S. alone. That’s a lot of waste.

Can we do better? Yes. Here are some tips I've happily gathered from all over the internets:

1. Recycle your coffee maker.
Yup, get rid of it. It's driving up your energy bill and taking up counter space. But get rid of it responsibly. The body is made of recyclable plastic; the pot is made of recyclable glass.

Instead, use a french press. Or a stove-top espresso maker. Anything else really. I love my Aeropress – I've used it every day for the last two years. It's made in the US and it brews enough delicious coffee for one. The little paper filters are super durable - I reuse mine for about two weeks (rinse and hang to dry). They're also compostable. My press was a gift from a friend who took his to Sierra Leone for 6 months. Because it's almost unbreakable.

2. Shop Local
Small, local roasters tend to work directly with farmers (fair and direct trade) and, overall, the size of their carbon footprint is much smaller. I live in the city of Intelligentsia; everything about their operation is transparent. But the product costs more than the stuff sitting on the shelf in a supermarket. I need to get over that and see coffee for what it is: a luxurious thing I love and should find a way to afford.

3. Don't toss the grounds
Compost or save the used grounds to make homemade products. Like a stimulating body scrub or a face mask that sounds delicious!

4. Say no to to-go
If you get your coffee to-go every day, really really think about switching to a reusable cup. Like a KeepCup.

5. Say no to stirring sticks!
I never thought I'd use the stupid things. But when I'm not at home, I do. Then I read this great tip and felt silly: instead of wasting a stick, put the cream and sugar in your cup first, then pour the hot coffee over it, and stir it by swirling the cup around gently. The coffee’s heat will naturally dissolve and blend the cream. I admit, I'm skeptical about the sugar. But since I stopped adding it, I just have to worry about the cream.

Are you a responsible coffee lover? Any tips?