Coffee + Tea Morning Coffee. CC photo by Flickr user essjay

Published on August 24th, 2010 | by Raza Imam

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10 Tips for Responsible Coffee Consumption

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Morning Coffee

“Drinking coffee responsibly?” some might ask…but not Eat Drink Better readers! You know that after oil, coffee is the most highly traded commodity on the planet. The ravaging demand for the other “black gold” is the main reason for massive deforestation projects to create agricultural land for coffee plantations in South America and Asia. As if that weren’t enough, a team of researchers concluded that it takes up 200 liters of water to produce just a single cup of latte when you consider cultivating, harvesting, transporting, and producing the final cup of coffee. Then there’s the heaps of paper and plastic products used with coffee (cups, filters, napkins, plastic tops, stirrers, etc.) that are discarded by the millions every single day. And don’t forget the “coffee crisis” which refers to dramatically low coffee prices causing labor problems where coffee farmers can barely provide for their families.

So no doubt, coffee consumption takes a major toll on the environment. And since most people won’t just give up their coffee habit altogether (not that they should), here are a few relatively easy ways to make your coffee drinking habit more responsible.

1. Avoid Corporate Coffee – Big coffee brands mass produce coffee, and do not think twice about cutting down trees to create large coffee plantations. Besides, the actual farmers who harvest the actual beans get very little in return for their work. CoffeeHabitat.com has a list of the top offenders.

2. Everything In Moderation… –  Since it takes so much water to make just one cup when you consider everything it takes to make, a good first step is to try to simply reduce how much coffee you drink per day.

3. Compost Used Coffee Grounds – If you’re a green thumb, you’ll love this tip (if you don’t already know it). The next time you brew a hot pot of coffee, rather than chucking out the used coffee grounds, toss them in your compost heap, or directly into your garden. The heavy nitrogen content in the coffee is a powerful fertilizer.

4. Ditch the Pesticides – Instead of using harsh chemicals in your garden to keep away unwanted pests like ants and neighborhood cats, sprinkle coffee grounds and orange peels in your garden. The nitrogen in the coffee burns ants’ legs and is better for the environment than using harmful chemicals. Cats don’t like the smell of coffee either.

5. No Need For a Coffee Stirrer – Rather than mixing sugar and cream with a plastic spoon or stirrer, try pouring them into an empty cup. Then gently pour your hot coffee on top, letting the heat naturally dissolve the sugar and mix the cream. It takes some practice. Alternatively, you could just use a regular spoon.

6. Go Local – To reduce the amount of carbon produced by shipping coffee halfway around the world, try buying coffee that has traveled the shortest distance to reach you. If you live in the North America, South American beans are an obvious first choice.

7. Drink Organic – Organic coffee is grown without toxic chemicals, and is grown in such a way that protects sensitive ecosystems and the birds that live within them. Most of these toxic chemicals are produced in factories that spew toxins into the environment themselves, so you’re killing birds with one stone by going organic.

8. Look for Fair Trade Coffee – If you’re going organic, and avoiding corporate coffee, buying fair trade coffee just makes sense. Rainforest Alliance and Transfair coffees not only ensure fair living wages for coffee farmers, they take into account environmental standards in their certification process.

9. Buy a Nice Mug – This one is a no-brainer. But it’s easier if you invest in a really cool mug that you will want to use over and over again; eliminating the need for plastic or Styrofoam cups.

10. Get Re-Usable Filters – To help reduce the amount of paper you use when drinking coffee, it’s a good idea to get a reusable gold coffee filter; not only will it help the environment, but it will improve the taste of your coffee. If you still want to use paper filters, look for unbleached, biodegradable ones.

There you have it, 10 easy ways to reduce the impact of coffee on the environment. What other creative uses for coffee can you think of?

This is a guest post by Raza Imam of The Coffee Maker Store… on a mission to be the coolest coffee makers site on the planet. Follow us on Twitter (@luvcoffeemakers) for a chance to win a free Nintendo Wii!

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by essjay



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  • http://www.ethicalbean.com Mel

    Absolutely fantastic advice! I have a problem with sticking to point #2 – I drink waaaay too much coffee, but its always fair trade organic coffee in a ceramic mug.

    • http://www.TheCoffeeMakerStore.com Raza Imam

      LOL… well everyone has their guilty pleasure ;-)

  • http://www.chronoscoffee.com Mike Chronos

    These are great tips. I am also a fan of organic coffee. Not only is it better for the people who produce it, but better for the environment as well. ChronosCoffee.com has a nice variety of organic coffee.

  • http://vivbizclub.com dinesh

    Another potential tip (which sort of goes with your #10) would be to avoid those single use pods. I read a really interesting write-up over at NYT the other week about Green Mountain coffee and how they try and run a sustainable operation, but that now >80% of their revenue is from non re-usable, non recyclable, non compostable, single use coffee pods.

    We definitely need to stop driving demand for those things…

    • http://glueandglitter.com Becky Striepe

      YES! Those single use coffee situations are ridiculously wasteful. Thank you for including this!

  • Pingback: Global Warming Endangers Coffee Crops – Eat Drink Better

  • http://tassimocoffeemakerreviews.wordpress.com/ Hermes Medina

    Good tips. I did not know about the pesticides and the use of coffee grounds for my garden. thanks for that.

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