April 20, 2012

A Greener Cup of Coffee

According to the National Coffee Association, 56% of American adults drink coffee every day. With regular coffee drinkers averaging three cups a day that adds up to 336 million cups every day. In 2010 Americans used 23 billion paper coffee cups and that number has only continued to grow.

But all those disposable cups are only a fraction of the damage the massive coffee industry inflicts on the environment. You don’t have to give up your caffeine fix to be green though. Here is how you can reduce the carbon footprint of your next cup of Joe:

Brew your own coffee at home. You’ll save money, a disposable cup, and all those unnecessary accoutrements (lid, plastic stirrer, cup sleeve, etc.). You can brew your favorite blend and know exactly what you’re getting in each cup – no synthetic creamers, syrup, or other artificial ingredients. Just avoid coffeemakers with single-use "pods.” They are extremely wasteful. A much greener and less expensive option is to purchase a permanent filter for your coffeemaker (they run less than $10) or use a French press which requires no filter and uses even less energy.

Re-purpose coffee grounds. Coffee grounds make a nitrogen-rich addition to your compost. They also make great plant food and can be used to keep ants, snails, and slugs away.

Bring your own mug. If you do go out for coffee, remember to bring your own reusable mug. It’s more enjoyable to drink from and many coffee shops will give you a discount for bring your own mug. Starbucks has a nationwide policy of giving a $0.10 reusable mug discount on any beverage.

Opt for Fair Trade and Organic. To have their product certified as fair trade coffee growers must practice sustainable farming techniques and ensure living wages and safe working conditions for workers. Fair trade protects the environment and people. Many fair trade coffees are also organic, which means they are grown without using harmful chemical fertilizer or pesticides.

Choose shade-grown coffee. Go a step beyond fair trade and organic by choosing shade-grown coffee. Some coffee growers strip huge areas of the rain forests down to the bare ground, destroying the local ecosystem, in order to plant more coffee shrubs. Shade-grown or bird-friendly coffee is harvested from shrubs grown in the natural shade of rain forest trees. The beans mature more slowly creating a richer flavor. Shade-grown coffee needs less fertilizer, prevents soil erosion, requires few if any pesticides, and promotes biodiversity.

Ask your local coffee shop to stock Fair Trade, Organic, and Shade-Grown options. Remember, it never hurts to ask. The more people that do, the more likely businesses will listen. Starbucks will brew a French press of fair trade coffee for anyone who asks.

Give the gift of greener coffee. Next time you're stuck for a gift idea, consider giving eco-friendly coffee, a reusable coffee filter, and/or reusable coffee mugs. The three together would make a great gift basket for the coffee lover in your life.


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