Dafé offers caffeine-free coffee in compostable bags
Coffee is one of our best-loved drinks, but there are big issues with unsustainable brands, packaging, plastic coffee cups and coffee pods, and the ethics of those who employ the coffee farmers. Here are some usefu resources to green up your cup of coffee!
Coffee only naturally grows under shade in rainforests and cloud forests. So avoid sun-grown coffee (this uses chemicals). Choose shade-grown coffee, which is also often called songbird-friendly coffee, as the canopy gives home to birds and other native wildlife. Bird & Wild has won a sustainable business award, and donates some profits to help preserve wild bird habitats.
A cup of coffee to help others, means looking for brands of coffee that go beyond just buying and roasting beans, and selling them for profit. For everyday coffee, one of the better brands is Clipper Organic Instant Coffee which you can find in most shops. It’s made from organically-grown Arabica coffee, and comes in a de-caff version (decaffeinated using CO2 and spring water). This was one of the first Fair Trade drinks brands in the UK. Brands that use eucalyptus compostable bags have concerns, as these trees planted en-masse for packaging are extremely flammable, and have caused huge wildfires in Portugal.
There’s no point choosing ethical coffee, if you add factory-farmed milk and refined sugar. Choose organic plant milks and natural sugars. Vegan Classic Cappuccino Mix does have glucose syrup, but it’s a choice for vegans, made with coconut oil. Place a few teaspoons in a cup with 180ml hot (not boiling) water, and stir well. Also in hazelnut and karamell.
- Change Please (UK) employs homeless people to become trained baristas. Or buy someone a Billy Chip (this can be used at cafes for homeless people to get a hot drink). Worldwide, Suspended Coffees signs up coffee shops to pre-pay a homeless person a cup of coffee.
- Redemption Roasters (London) employs prisoners as roasters and baristas, to train them up in skills, and others work in their coffee shops.
- Frontline Coffee helps emergency crews (fire, lifeboat, ambulance) and a carer’s charity. Sold in biodegradable coffee pouches.
A Coffee Cup Lending System
Again Again (New Zealand) is an innovative idea, to help use of single-use plastic coffee cups. The company provides coffee shops with a fleet of reusable stainless steel cups, on a deposit or return basis. The customer just asks for an ‘Again Again’ cup, ideal if they forget to bring their own reusable cup, or don’t have one. Coffee shops who operate on tight martins don’t take on the risk of people not returning the cups.
If you have no choice but to serve disposable coffee cups for hygiene reasons, contact Veolia, which has couriers to take cups off for recycling. Coffee shops can also now buy compostable single-use coffee cups that are made from bio-plastic (not perfect, but unlike most plastic, these do break down in commercial composting systems).
Choose Compostable Coffee Pods
Ever since George Clooney began advertising coffee pods, millions of people have switched over. The problem is that most coffee pods are a complicated blend of plastic and aluminium, so are very difficult to recycle.
Although convenient, this has meant that over 3 billion coffee pods are used in the UK each year alone. Nearly all of them just get binned after use, and take 500 years to break down. Nespresso has so far sold over 28 billion pods, and they are all languishing somewhere on landfill. Coffee pods are also one of those items that in general, are too tiny to recycle. They are the wrong size and shape to fit through recycling machines.
This selection box of compostable coffee pods contains 40 pods from Brazil, Ethiopia, Brazil and Colombia. Grind (London) sells compostable coffee pods in a refillable tin. Keep the tin and subscribe to letterbox-friendly refills (use a letterbox guard if you have pets, as some smell like chocolate).
- Another option is to use a reusable coffee pod. Sealpod makes reusable capsules made from stainless steel. Designed to last a lifetime, just empty out and rinse, and use again. Or just a no-bone china coffee mug.
- A French Press is used by millions of people in Europe to brew their coffee. Just like those little stainless steel moka pots, Barista & Co Infuser lets you make fresh coffee in a cup. Just fill, close and place in your mug, pour in boiling water and leave for 4 minutes (you can recycle coffee grounds in the compost bin).
- Salter Personal To-Go Coffee Maker has its own reusable filter, to stop paper waste. Just brew one cup of coffee with one-touch and coffee pours straight into a 420ml stainless steel travel mug. Just place your ground coffee into the filter, place in the brewing chamber, and add water. Takes a few minutes. Compact design for small kitchens.
- Morphy Richards Coffee on the Go has a permanent filter and water level indicator, and fills directly into a stainless steel thermal travel mug. Just put on the lid and go
Zero Waste Coffee Filters
Zero waste coffee filters offer an alternative to disposable filters that are usually bleached with chlorine (which releases chemicals at landfill) and often sold in plastic packaging. Not everyone uses coffee filters, but they are popular especially for offices and businesses of service, like hair salons.
The other people that tend to use coffee filters are those people who are very fussy about their coffee. Using freshly roasted grounds tends to produce a better cup of coffee than just whizzing out a teaspoon and making a mug of coffee from a jar. Either way, there are better choices out there.
- Cloth coffee filters work the same as paper filters, but obviously can be reused. Again they can last months or years, with good. CoffeeSock (US) is made in Texas. It costs 25% less than premium paper filters and brews brighter than a French press, and richer than a paper filter. Just brew, rinse and hang to dry. Each pack lasts around 1 year (replaces around 500 filters) then compost.
- Stainless Steel Coffee Filters last 20 years (sent in a cardboard box). Sit on top of a mug or jug, add ground coffee and boiling water. It’s easy to clean and dishwasher safe. The wide mouth and handle rests in teapots, mugs, cups or glass bottles, and the fine mesh filters smallest grounds. Remove stains with baking soda, dissolved in warm water. Australia’s Icon Chef also sells a reusable stainless steel coffee filter.
- If You Care Unbleached Coffee Filters (UK) are disposable. But they are unbleached and sold in a pack of 100 for no.4 size filters. Just place one one filter in the cone or basket, add 1 teaspoon of coffee for each cup, then compost after use.
- One-Cup Coffee Filters are ideal for people who drink or serve a lot of coffee. You can also buy one-cup brewing machines. These are all around the £40 mark, so depends on how much filtered coffee you drink, as to whether they are worth buying. Salter Personal To-Go Coffee Maker has its own reusable filter, to stop paper waste.
Choose Locally-Roasted Coffee
We may not be able to grow coffee here, but you could still support local artisan roasters. These companies tend to be more eco-friendly and you help to keep money circulating in the community. Coffee can only grow in cloud cover, so if you ever see sun-grown coffee, don’t buy it. This means that it would be using chemicals to grow it, which would also be harming native wildlife.
However, once shade-grown coffee beans are grown, you could still support local artisans by choosing people who roast them here, and that helps to keep money in the local community.
- Durham Coffee Co name their coffees after local saints. Try their St Cuthbert coffee.
- Coldblow Coffee (Kent) offers coffee from the tropics of south east England!
The Best Reusable Coffee Cups
The best reusable coffee cups are ones that are made from quality materials designed to last years, and so don’t contribute to landfill waste. Most good reusable coffee cups also have a belly band to keep your hands cool, often made from cork (no trees are cut down to make it) or silicone (this does use some fossil fuels but does not break down into microplastics, and is very near in appearance and feel to plastic).
Most disposable coffee cups are made from paper or cardboard (requiring huge amounts of trees to be cut down yearly). In addition, growing on ‘sustainable plantations’ usually involves tearing down old-growth trees (homes to native wildlife) and then replacing them with fast-growing saplings, that require pesticides to grow and harvest them.
Disposable coffee cups also often have plastic lining inside (so they cannot be recycled) and plastic lids. If discarded in nature, the microplastics can break down and get accidentally ingested by land and marine wildlife (and the sweet-tasting mocha coffees etc can be tempting to native wildlife, also causing harm).
Of course, the most zero waste way to drink coffee, is simply to make it at home or work, in a mug! But if you like to visit coffee shops, invest in one of these reusable coffee cups. It’s a one-time investment (most coffee shops also give discounts if you bring your own mug, as it saves them money too). Then enjoy freshly made coffee by your favourite barista, knowing you are not contributing to the single-use plastic mountain.
Be careful what materials you choose, as some plastics when heated, could leak carcinogens. It’s unlikely this will happen as a microwaved coffee is only heated for a few seconds, but there are better options available than plastic or melamine.
Squoffee Collapsible Coffee Cup is a nice 350ml cup made from food-grade silicone, which won’t taint your drinks, and can be recycled at end of use. In pink or green, these are convenient for people with small bags, you just collapse it after use, then wash it when you get home.
Yuggen Glass Coffee Cup has a cork sleeve to keep your hands cool, and drinks hot. In mint or black, it’s dishwasher-safe (remove the cork band). Glass coffee cups are usually made from tough borosilicate glass (the same used for Pyrex dishes). They are tough but not unbreakable, so don’t handle with wet hands. Don’t use near pets or children, nor outside (accidentally dropping would cause glass litter).
Husk UK sells coffee cups made from coffee husk waste, with a universal lid (for travel) and universal saucer (for home use). The smart design means there is no need for cardboard or rubber sleeves, to protect your hands. Dishwasher-safe. Kaffee Form (Germany) makes cappuccino and espresso mugs from coffee waste, collected from Berlin cafes.