How are your coffee habits affecting the planet? Paper filters, coffee grounds, and plastic coffee brewing equipment : The environmental impact of brewing coffee can quickly increase.
Fortunately, conscious purchasing and proper reuse and recycling of old or broken equipment can go a long way towards establishing more environmentally friendly habits. Whether you're an avid home consumer or a regular at your favorite coffee shop, there are many ways to make your passion for coffee more sustainable.
Lifespan of commonly used coffee equipment
While single-use plastic gets the most attention in the debate over economic sustainability, all materials have an environmental footprint.
There are several main materials used in the manufacture of coffee equipment such as stainless steel, various plastics, ceramics and glass.
Stainless steel is not biodegradable, but can rust and become damaged under unregulated conditions, such as exposure to certain chemicals. There are many types of plastic, but in general, it can take about 1000 years for plastic parts to decompose in the landfill. Both glazed ceramics and glass can take millions of years to biodegrade, and some sources claim they will never fully decompose.
This does not take into account the use of resources to manufacture and transport these products. For example, producing plastic requires other fossil fuels besides crude oil.
If your goal is to shop sustainably, the lifespan of the materials used in your coffee equipment should affect what you buy and how you dispose of items.
Buying environmentally friendly products
With around 2.5 billion packages of paper cups thrown away each year in the UK, 99.75% of which are not recycled, buying the right products like travel cups can have a big impact.
However, remember that each product represents an environmental cost. Make sure you buy something you will reuse. If it's eco-friendly or made from recycled materials, this will go a long way toward further reducing its impact on the environment.
The demand for reusable cups is huge, which is great. We think it's important for consumers and coffee shops to consider quality in this area, as buying low-cost reusable cups that go around the world and don't last long is often worse for the planet.
Buying new filters? These cannot be recycled after use due to contact with coffee oils. However, consider whether it's made from recycled materials or opt for other types of filters. A metal filter, cloth, and even unfiltered brewing methods like french press or coffee pots can reduce your daily waste.
Some products will also represent an investment in sustainable initiatives. One of the biggest environmental footprints of the coffee industry is water use and pollution. This is because washed processing, one of the most popular ways to separate coffee beans from coffee cherries, relies on fermenting the fruit in water tanks. According to Project Waterfall, it takes up to 840 liters of water to make just one 750ml pot of coffee.
Rebecca Hodgson is Program Manager at Project Waterfall, a charity that wants to end the water crisis for people living in the coffee belt.
785 million people do not have access to clean water, and 1.6 million people die each year from water-related diseases. Project Waterfall focuses on installing and maintaining clean water systems and partners with companies like Barista & Co to raise funds. Recently, Barista & Co has produced a range of home coffee making tools and professional milk jugs to support Project Waterfall.
How is coffee equipment recycled?
Exactly what you can recycle will depend on your local authority and proximity to suitable recycling centres. You should be able to find information online about what you can recycle and whether to collect it from your home or take it to a recycling centre.
You may find that you need to reserve materials for an item to be accepted. For example, if a product is made of plastic and glass, you may need to put different items in different recycling bins. Glass is 100% recyclable and can be recycled continuously without any deterioration in quality or function. Note that classifying plastics as recyclable and non-recyclable can be complicated, but plastics like polypropylene can be recycled many times over. However, many recycling centers do not accept recycling of plastic containing glass and vice versa.
Sustainable disposal of non-recyclable materials
Unfortunately, not all products can be recycled. Ceramics, for example, can be broken down and remade to their original state, but this often results in a much weaker material. As an example, the Origami dripper is completely environmentally friendly as it is produced entirely from ceramics.
The problem with recycling plastics is that there are over 50 different types of plastics; some are recyclable and some are unusable. Of the seven main types; only two are widely accepted for recycling.
When plastics are submitted for recycling, they tend to be grouped together and can be difficult to separate and reprocess due to the similarity in density. Sometimes this results in all the plastic being incinerated or thrown away as landfill.
Yet while some materials in coffee equipment may not be recyclable, we can still dispose of them consciously and sustainably.
Most charities will accept any kitchen or beverage item that is in good condition. If you cannot take the product to the store, home collection may be possible. Second-hand shops are also an option for higher quality or more valuable coffee equipment.
Upcycling can be a more creative way to breathe life and add charm to unused or unusable coffee equipment. You can turn a coffee maker into a lamp, vase or flower pot.
Alternatively, if you find that your equipment cannot be recycled locally, the product manufacturer can recycle it for you.
We've seen a huge shift in awareness over the past two years. We feel optimistic that both coffee drinkers and the coffee industry are becoming more aware of the challenges facing our environment and coffee growing communities.
It is up to us to maintain this momentum. Recycling a reusable thermos or coffee equipment for your daily cafe trip can make a huge difference to the world's environmental sustainability and the communities that grow the coffee you sip.