5 top actions coffee drinkers can take to help the environment

by JulieCraves on October 15, 2007

Today is Blog Action Day: thousands of bloggers are uniting to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind. This year, it’s the environment.

Coffee & Conservation is all about the impact of coffee growing on the environment. Because coffee consumption is so ubiquitous, coffee drinkers have tremendous influence on habitat preservation and the conservation of biodiversity. The small actions of many people have enormous power — your actions can make a difference!

Here are the top 5 actions you can do as a coffee drinker to help the environment.

  1. Stop buying coffee from “the big four”: NestlÁ©, Kraft, Procter and Gamble, and Sara Lee/Doewe Egberts. Here is a list of their a.k.a.’s and brands. These multinational companies, aside from having other dubious business practices outside of coffee, are motivated entirely by profit and market share. The only way they can offer cheap coffee at their huge volumes is to increase production and decrease production costs. Coffee is grown as a monoculture in the sun on large plantations with high chemical inputs and farmers are not paid a living wage. Read more about how sun coffee destroys biodiversity and the issues surrounding corporate coffee. I can’t emphasize enough: if you do one thing, this is it, quit buying commodity coffee.
  2. Buy organic coffee. Certified organic is great. Quite a lot of coffee is grown organically but not certified (“passive organic”) or nearly organically (even occasional use of spot-applied herbicide or non-organic fertilizer is a disqualifier). If you are willing to do a little research to learn which ones, these are great, too. You can read more in the organic coffee category; of special interest is this post summarizing organic certification.
  3. Use your own mug! Disposable coffee cups have to be the most wasteful product in the Western world. Here’s something you own for less than a half-hour, and throw away. And you get another the next day, or perhaps sooner. Good for the companies that are developing cups made from recycled or biodegradable materials. They still get thrown away, and in the anaerobic conditions of a landfill, even grass takes a very long time to break down. In the U.S. between 15 and 39 billion cups are tossed every year (Starbucks uses nearly 2 billion a year). How many do you throw away? Stop!! Bring some mugs to work, keep a couple of travel mugs in the car. How hard is that?
  4. Buy from a local roaster. Unless you live in the tropics, it will not be possible for you to drink locally-grown coffee. But you can cut down on the fuel used to ship roasted coffee by purchasing from a local roaster. You can check out my interactive roaster map for some great roasters around North America — feel free to make suggestions for additions. If you don’t have a local roaster, look for Allegro coffee at your nearest Whole Foods Market. There’s an added bonus for supporting your local roaster. You develop a relationship with them and can let them know what’s important to you. You increase their business, providing them with resources which enable them to develop direct relationships with farmers, which nearly always means improving sustainability efforts. Win-win-win.
  5. Quit using paper coffee filters. Don’t kill trees and send a filter a day to the landfill. There is a reusable gold filter for virtually every pot. This action also saves money in the long run, and makes your coffee taste better. Most paper filters tend to change the taste of the coffee, either by adding their own paper/chemical taste, and/or by absorbing some of the oils in the coffee that help give each bean its unique flavor.
Revised on December 21, 2020

Posted in Coffee and the environment

Johnny October 15, 2007 at 10:32 am

Thanks for the tips. I have been using a Krups thermal coffee pot for years (once the coffee is brewed, the pot shuts off and the coffee is kept hot in a thermal carafe). I have been meaning to use a gold filter instead of paper, but had not gotten around to it. I read your blog and followed your links and ordered the filter. It should be here in a few days and I can stop buying and wasting paper — thanks!

BirdBarista October 15, 2007 at 10:39 am

Thanks for taking the time to respond…it means I've made a difference, too!

Cappuccino October 17, 2007 at 9:04 am

Awesome post as always! I love the interactive map!

Aaron October 17, 2007 at 11:39 am

First, thanks for putting me on "the map." Second, I know it's still part paper, but have you tried Melitta's bamboo cone filters? Not as good as gold as far as reuseability, obviously, but I hear bamboo is more environmentally "green" than regular paper. (I have a few bamboo shirts that are to die for soft!)

BirdBarista October 17, 2007 at 1:40 pm

I have bamboo bedsheets! Much like silk, except they "pill" pretty quickly…then they are like flannel. Much better for the environment than cotton. I'd not heard about the bamboo filters. Helps prevent tree killing, wonder if they bleach them, and with what? Interesting.

Don Watcher October 22, 2007 at 9:03 am

I tried to order a coffee filter through Amazon but they won't ship to Canada (they think it's an electrical appliance). Do you anywhere in Canada I can order one from?

BirdBarista October 22, 2007 at 11:00 am
aaron October 25, 2007 at 1:24 am

bamboo filters are not bleached. look just like the regular unbleached ones (at least from the pics i've seen).

supposedly bamboo is the next big thing, although i hear stuff about it too, such as the fact that folks are clear cutting huge swaths of land to plant bamboo. no fun.

also, i know you've touched on this before, but please speak to the argument about the calculus between lower yields with organics and having to bring more land under cultivation to keep production levels the same, versus using pest/herbicides judiciously and keeping yields (and fields) at a more static level. basically, how much loss of production or new land needing to be cleared are we potentially talking about?

Laura February 1, 2008 at 7:17 am

I'm curious about recycled paper filters vs. gold. Someone had pointed out to me that the process of producing the gold filters may not be very green, and also that we compost our paper filters, instead of sending them to the landfill. I'd love to get a gold filter, but always have that in the back of my mind.
Any comments?

BirdBarista April 21, 2008 at 3:42 pm

Pass the word!

OCMom April 21, 2008 at 12:54 pm

This is a great article, and I'm referring my reads to it. Thanks for being green and giving us great advice.

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