Coffee, Sustainability and Reducing Our Environmental Impact

Reducing Our Environmental Impact with Coffee

The majority of the United States is still experiencing shelter in place due to COVID-19 and the pandemic, and because of this most businesses are limited to take-out only.

One of the things I miss is making our delicious coffee lattes, cappuccinos and espresso drinks for our customers in ceramic mugs.  We had just ordered beautiful new slate grey mugs from our friends at NotNeutral for our coffees.  We also purchased beautiful tea infusers to use serve our customers our loose-leaf tea so we could reduce the amount of waste created from tea bags.

I always encouraged people to get their espresso drinks in ceramic as opposed to paper cups because it reduces the waste created in a café.


Making Latte Art

Photo by: Weaver’s Coffee & Tea

Straws, sugar packets, coffee sleeves, plastic lids, paper cups lined with polyethylene are all standards in a coffee shop and they all create an immense amount of waste.

Before shelter in place, I was moving our Flagship Weaver's Coffee & Tea in San Francisco at 2301 Market Street to be even more sustainable, really encouraging customers to enjoy their coffee and tea while seated in the cafe, drinking from a ceramic cup or mug.  Our neighborhood in the Castro District used to be filled with thousands of people on the street everyday, and especially on the weekends.  This created an increase in the use of disposable cups and therefore we would see more waste piled up around garbage cans on Market Street come Monday mornings. One positive with Stay Home Orders, is that waste in cafes and coffeeshops is down.

I switched all of our garbage bags to compostable/bio-degradable bags and all of our “to-go” food was packaged in compostable packaging. I made sure we ordered compostable straws and I switched the café from sugar packets to tabletop sugar shakers to reduce the single-waste by product.  Renee helped organize a new pour-over system from Bodum that used a metal filter instead of paper, and our paper cold brew filters were switched out to a filter made from plant-based byproduct versus filters made from trees.  I started to refill our coffee bags with coffee grounds for compost loving customers.  We offered the used coffee grinds free to customers who gardened and needed a fertilizer for acid-loving plants.  We offered discounts to people who brought their own cups and mugs.

Just as Renee and I were looking into alternative paper cups that are compostable instead of lined with polyethylene, shelter in place was announced and the world changed as we knew it.

Now being take-out only, we are running through more cups, sugar packets, straws than ever and have now added single-use, food-safe gloves to the mix as we wear these when handling cash, food, and making drinks and must switch them after every use and can no longer accept reusable cups.

When people ask us how they can support us, I help them find a few pounds of coffee that they can brew at home and ask them to tell all of their friends to go to our website and purchase our coffees online. Our e-commerce business has tripled and we continue to ship tons of packaged coffee in one pound bags and five pound bags, nationally and across Canada.

Brewing at Home

While there is no wrong way to brew coffee at home, there are certain methods that will create less waste than others.

Most automatic coffee pots need to be plugged into an outlet.  Machines take energy as the water needs to be heated and pushed through the machine to brew the coffee.  Automatic espresso machines take even more energy as the water is usually hotter than a standard coffee.

Besides the energy usage, most automatic coffee brewers use paper filters.  Paper coffee filters are single-use, and usually bleached white with chlorine.

There are a few small changes we can make in the way that we brew our coffee that can be impactful.

  1. Natural paper coffee filters.  If you are going to use a coffee machine or a pour over station that uses paper-filters, buy filters that have not been bleached or buying a metal or cloth re-usable filter.

  2. Switch the method that you brew your coffee!  French press, stovetop percolators, AeroPress, and certain pour over systems are all systems that do not require paper filters and do not need to be plugged in.  After brewing, they simply need to be cleaned and then they are ready for use again, only leaving coffee grinds as a byproduct.

  3. If using a Keurig Coffee Maker is the way to brew, buy a reusable K-cup that can be washed and filled.  This way you will you get a fresher cup of coffee and create less waste.

  4. Buy better coffee. Buy Fair Trade Certified Coffee. This coffee is a healthier alternative to coffee that is chemically treated, it gives back to farmers globally so they are able to live better lives by supporting education and health in the community.  Coffees like our Hacker's Delight Coffee and Astral Blend Coffee and Pride Blend Coffee are Fair Trade Certified and also give to local charities.


French Press filled with coffee

Photo by: Taste of Home

Reusing Coffee Grinds

Coffee grinds are a natural byproduct of the brewing process. There are other ways that we can use coffee grinds instead of simply dumping them into our compost bins.

  1. In the garden. Coffee grinds are full of phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen. Sprinkle them onto the top of soil the next time you water your plants as a way to naturally fertilize them. Coffee grinds are a good fertilizer for acidic loving plants such as tomatoes, hydrangeas, and blueberries.

  2. Stop bugs. Spread coffee grinds around if you are having problems with ants or slugs. The coffee grinds act as a natural deterrent for these unwanted pests.

  3. In the kitchen. Experiment by combining coffee grinds with olive oil and spices like paprika and chili powder to make interesting rubs that you can add to meat or tofu before cooking it. The coffee grinds make an interesting marinade that is smoky and rich.

  4. For your skin. Combine 1 tablespoon of coffee grinds with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and a pinch of cinnamon to make a natural face scrub. (Test on a small area of skin beforehand to make sure your skin type does not have a negative reaction.)

  5. Dye your clothes. If you are tired of bleaching your clothes white, or the stains simply will not come out any longer, use a strong pot of brewed coffee as well as the coffee grinds as a way to naturally dye clothes. Let clothes steep in the mixture on a constant, low heat for a desire amount of time (no longer than 1 hour). Wash the clothes with a gentle soap before washing in a machine. Fold your clothes before dying them to create interesting patterns.


 Dyeing clothing in coffee grinds

Photo by: Apartment Therapy