Here’s something most of us java heads don’t discuss often: the coffee environmental impact. Coffee is something nearly all of us look forward to each day, and which few of us are willing to live without.
However, there are questions as to how eco-friendly our habit may be, particularly in how we source, enjoy, and dispose of our java.
But there is no reason the coffee you love so very much can’t be ethical in every respect, including being socially conscious for the producers, healthy for the earth, and non-toxic for you.
So, what can be done, you ask? Well, to start, here is a list of 9 things you can do to help make sure your coffee habit is as green as it can be.
One of the easiest ways for you to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals going into soil, waterways, and food supplies is to buy organic. In fact, this alone goes a long way toward sipping eco friendly coffee on the regular.
Not only does USDA Certified Organic prohibit the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, it also disallows the use of Genetical Modification (GMO), which a growing body of evidence is showing signs of connections to health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers rights.
Buying organic coffee not only makes your joe safer for you to drink, but keeps indigenous growers safe from the effects of chemical toxins which can leach into water supplies, deplete soil quality, and cause any number of illnesses up to and including cancer and heart disease.
Worried about the extra cost of organic? Well, consider the even higher cost of healthcare and a polluted environment, and you may just find organic to be the bargain of the century!
Coffee grows naturally in the shade, although trees also get in the way of mass production when it comes to farming. Due to this, many coffee plantations have clear cut forests to grow coffee, and either use artificial shade methods (canopies), or hybrid strains of coffee which can take full and direct sunlight.
This not only destroys critical forest habitat, but harms bird and animal life, creates soil erosion, and causes drought.
Oh, and by the way – coffee grown this way also isn’t as good either, so there is that as well. But, by looking for coffee which is either shade-grown, or has the “Bird Friendly” seal of approval on it, you can ensure that your coffee hasn’t contributed to the destruction of some of our most critical natural resources—namely, the forests which help to produce the air we breathe!
The unethical growing of coffee can not only be harmful to the forests, soil, and water, but to the wellbeing of farmers, their families and their communities as well.
By looking for coffee which is Certified Fair Trade, you can see to it that coffee producers are given a minimum price for their crops, and that they use farming practices which don’t harm the environment, while helping to maintain the sustainability of their communities.
One thing we don’t need more of in the environment is plastic, and by not using single-use disposable “K-cups,” you can better ensure that there is less plastic missing the recycling bin, and polluting the earth.
Remember too that plastic is usually made from petroleum, and it contains toxic chemicals which can cause endocrine disruption, birth defects, cancer and many other hazardous and deadly conditions, so the less we use the better!
However, with so many brewing methods available which don’t create disposable waste, there is no reason to continue doing such a disservice to the environment.
Try using a small espresso machine which has a permanent metal filter. You can make flavorful, single-serve coffee with one, and even save money while you’re at it.
Compost—or use—your grounds
Coffee grounds not only make wonderful, rich compost, but can keep your azaleas healthy and colorful, exfoliate your skin, and reduce or eliminate odors in your home.
In fact, once you find out the multitude of uses for coffee grounds, you may never want to dispose of them again!
Try keeping some grounds next to your kitchen sink for when your hands are greasy, or have garlic or other aromatics on them. Not only do coffee grounds make an effective scrub which will remove the grease and odors, but they will exfoliate your hands at the same time, leaving them soft and supple.
A small sachet of them in your refrigerator can also help absorb odors every bit as well as baking soda—just without having to spend money on baking soda. Coffee even works for scrubbing away tough stains, keeping garden pests away, and cleaning your hair (it works!), so stop putting such a valuable household commodity in the landfill!
Using coffee filters is not only wasteful, but they can also contain chlorine bleach and other chemicals which are not good for you or the environment. By using a French press or other brewing system which utilizes a permanent, non-disposable filter, you can reduce the number of trees being cut down, the amount of waste going into landfills, and the number of chemicals going into our soil, air and waterways.
Even if you can’t part with your paper filter brewing method, look for unbleached, natural coffee filters which can be composted along with your grounds.
Even if your local coffee shop provides you with biodegradable paper cups, the lid still needs to be made from plastic, and the cups themselves come from trees.
Plus, paper cups don’t always end up in composting bins, and in fact, most of them get tossed in the trash, or worse, end up as litter.
And, not all shops use paper, and instead insist on the continued use of plastic and Styrofoam, both of which have much worse repercussions for the environment than paper.
However, by making a small investment in your own reusable cup, you can do your part to help eliminate waste, save trees, reduce our dependence on petroleum, and even save yourself some money.
In fact, most shops will reduce the cost of your coffee by the amount it costs them to provide you with a cup, and many will even fill your 20oz cup for the price of a 12oz non-reusable coffee, since you are saving them money as well.
Also, by using a silicone, ceramic, stainless steel, glass or other non-plastic container, you can avoid ingesting BPA and other toxins associated with plastic.
Not only is your coffee and its container important when it comes to being environmentally conscientious, but what you put into your coffee is as well.
Conventional half-and-half, for instance, often comes from cows given artificial growth hormones, antibiotics, and are fed some questionable products—such as chicken poop, for instance (yes, you read that right!).
Additionally, conventional dairy can contain pesticides, herbicides, and other toxic chemicals which we certainly don’t want to ingest ourselves, nor do we want to encourage the continued use of.
By looking for either organic milk products, or non-dairy options such as soy, almond or coconut milk, you can at least make sure that hormones and antibiotics are avoided—although even these options may offer their own ethical dilemmas when it comes to sourcing, use of GMO (genetic modification), and farming techniques.
Coconuts, for instance, are grown in tropical regions where forests may have been destroyed to make room for more tree farms, and soy is one of the most genetically modified crops there are.
Almonds also take up valuable water resources in drought-stricken California, and all these options may contain hazardous chemicals if they are not organically grown. However, by looking for non-GMO, organic products, and coconut milk which has the Fair Trade certification, you can better ensure that your creamer options are safe for both you, and the environment.
Sugar is something else which we may not be aware of all that goes into it. Conventional, white sugar, for instance – and aside from being one of the simplest carbohydrates there are–is made using “bone-char,” or burnt cow bones as a filter to help bleach it white.
Even brown sugar is not a great answer, since it is often just processed white sugar with molasses added. And, no matter what sugar you choose, all sugar depletes vitamin D, magnesium, and other key vitamins and minerals in addition to increasing your risk for obesity and diabetes.
If you must have sugar in your coffee, try using raw sucanat (sugar in its most naturally processed form), organic turbinado sugar, coconut sugar, or better yet, avoid sugar altogether with a natural, non-glycemic sweetener such as stevia.