Gold filters versus paper filters

by JulieCraves on March 1, 2013

Interesting question! First I will mention that any type of gold filter allows all the flavors of the coffee to come through, because it is chemically inert and does not absorb any oils or flavors. Paper (and other porous material) filters absorb oils that give coffee much of its subtle flavors. They also filter out sediments, which many people find a plus, but which also eliminates some taste. Paper or porous filters can also have subtle chemical reactions with coffee that can alter flavor.

Those features aside, what about environmental impact? There are two types of paper filter. White, bleached filter paper uses a chlorine bleaching process that is terrible for the environment. These are a definite no-no. Some filters are oxygen bleached. There are also brown, unbleached paper filters. Here’s the main issue. Paper mills use huge amounts of water and energy, and tend to be big polluters even if they do not use a chlorine bleaching process. You can read more in this PDF from the Reach for Unbleached organization.

Further, I think many (most?) paper filters are made from virgin paper pulp, and not recycled paper. This may be in part to laws that prohibit items that come in contact with food coming from third parties (post-consumer and therefore unknown sources). I’m not sure if this is the case in the U.S., but I think it is in the E.U. Filters labeled “recycled” may actually only be reused virgin mill scraps, versus post-consumer recycled material. “Totally Chlorine Free” is a designation reserved for virgin pulp only. If anybody knows about a 100% post-consumer waste recycled unbleached coffee filter, I’d be interested in hearing about it!

Gold filters are made of gold-plated metal, usually stainless steel, and are sometimes called gold tone filters. Swiss gold filters use 23-carat gold plating. Gold mining is nasty business, but the amount of gold in a filter is very small. I have found little information specific to the manufacturing process of gold coffee filters and their environmental impact. Even if it is equal to the pollution and energy expended in paper processing, it seems to me that — even though wood is a renewable resource — gold filters are re-usable, and paper filters require regular consumption of trees.

If the average household makes a pot of coffee most days, they use three 100-count boxes of filters a year. A gold filter really never wears out, although coffee makers do. For the sake of being conservative, let’s say you can get 10 years out of a filter. That’s one item being manufactured and shipped, versus 30 boxes of filters. I mentioned sending paper filters to the landfill. You can compost used filters. My guess is that most people who use them use them so they can dump them in the garbage, however.

Then there are some alternatives — such as hemp or bamboo. Life expectancy of fabric filters, I have heard, is only 4 to 6 months. They need to be frequently washed in hot, soapy water and thoroughly rinsed to remove oils that would easily adhere to the fiber and sour. Granted, you rinse a gold filter and/or pop it in the dishwasher. Washing a fabric filter, I believe, would take a lot more water to clean than a gold filter.

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Revised on March 1, 2015

Posted in Coffee-related products

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