How can I make my to-go morning coffee more eco-friendly?
Easy! Alex has created a collaborative app to help you, no matter where you live, you can add coffee shops and rate them according to their ecological practice, or just browse to find the greenest in your neighborhood.
Feel free to share this video, it is very useful and will help coffee shops to do more.
But why is it important?
Single-use coffee cups: It is estimated that 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups are discarded globally every year. This equates to a staggering 5000 every minute. If a person throws away one coffee cup per day, that adds up to 23lbs of waste per year.
SOLUTION: Buy a reusable Mug or you can use your water bottle or get one from Closiist.
Paper coffee cup: Paper cups might seem like a better option but, on its own, paper cannot hold liquid so baristas pour coffee into cups lined with polyethylene, a plastic that functions as a moisture barrier. The lining must be separated from the cup before the paper portion can be recycled, explains Rachel A. Meidl PhD, a fellow in Energy and Environment in the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University.
“The process is both complex and expensive [so] the cups are routed to landfills or incinerators for final disposal,” Meidl says. “When people erroneously place the coffee cups into their recycling bins, it contaminates the higher value plastic that can be recycled.”
Although a report by Clean Water Action found that manufacturing conventional polystyrene products used less energy and water than paper or cornstarch alternatives, the single-use plastic is ubiquitous in landfills where it takes thousands of years to decompose, contaminates soil and water and pose hazards to wildlife. Coffee and other hot liquids can cause styrene to leach from cups; the chemical has been linked to a host of health problems from impaired concentration and nervous system effects to cancer.
Meidl notes that technology exists to recycle polystyrene foam — though many curbside programs do not accept it in their systems — while “paper cups are notoriously difficult to recycle due to the plastic lining.”
SOLUTION: people need to get into the habit of taking a reusable mug or tumbler with them when they go buy their cappuccino or macchiato.
Coffee cup lids:
Plastic lids might prevent spills but Meidl notes that the single-use items are typically made from polypropylene or polystyrene #6, a petroleum-based plastic that is difficult to recycle.
“Recycling and converting used polypropylene into reusable plastic is often too costly to be profitable” she says. “The sorting, cleaning, and melting of polypropylene is more expensive than creating virgin or new polypropylene lids.”
When coffee cups are tossed into the recycle bin with their lids attached, the components have to be separated before they can be processed in separate recycling streams.
Starbucks redesigned its lids to provide a straw-free sipping option, calling it an “environmental milestone,” but the new sippy cup-like lids have faced harsh criticism for using more plastic than the straws they replaced. One analysis found that the new lids added .32 to .88 grams of plastic to each drink depending on its size.
“Making cups out of single materials…does make them more recyclable [and] you could argue that integrated sippy cup could be more likely to be recycled and less likely to have straws getting into the marine environment,” Mulvihill says. “But the argument against is that you’re using more plastic than you were before and a straw in the landfill versus a sippy cup lid in the landfill is not really moving the needle.”
Skipping the lid altogether is a better alternative, which is what manager Connor Nerat sees happening at Spill the Beans, “More people are asking for no lids on their iced drinks.”
Plastic stirrers: The problem of plastic stirrers is largely an economic one. We need something to stir our coffee, and a bag of 1000 of plastic stirrers cost little more than $5. This is far cheaper than any other options for coffee to go, and coffee shop managers tend to think in terms of short-term budgets rather than saving the planet.
SOLUTION: environmentally conscious coffee drinkers should consider carrying their own reusable stirrer so at least they will have the peace of mind that they are doing their bit to help end the disastrous plastic pollution that is now afflicting our poor planet. What’s Wrong with a Spoon? Look at this bamboo utensils set.
- Choice of coffee is very important too (for coffee shop or for you at-home):
- Sun-Grown Coffee: Originating in the 1970s, sun-grown coffee is produced on plantations where trees are cleared so that coffee is grown in rows in direct sunlight. According to research, sun-grown coffee creates the highest yield, but eliminates the diversity of plants which support an array of insects and animals. This negatively impacts the biodiversity of the region and causes other environmental harms. Sun grown coffee produces short-term results but harms the environment in the long run.
- Deforestation: The switch to sun-grown coffee has resulted in over 2.5 million acres of forest cleared in Central America. Permanently removing trees for something else is called "deforestation". Deforestation is serious. Tropical forests are critical in protecting atmospheric dynamics, water quality, and wildlife species.
Water Pollution and Contamination: Contamination of waterways also poses serious environmental threats from the processing of coffee beans. Discharges from coffee processing plants represent a major source of river pollution. Ecological impacts result from the discharge of organic pollutants from the processing plants to rivers and waterways, triggering eutrophication of water systems and robbing aquatic plants and wildlife of essential oxygen.
Agrochemical Usage: Traditional coffee relies on much lower chemical inputs than industrial plantations due to the other plants reducing the susceptibility to pests. On the contrary, sun-grown coffee often employs intensive pesticides and chemicals that present serious health and ecological concerns. The World Resources Institute (WRI) carried out a study that reported extensive human exposure to pesticides in Latin America and elsewhere in the developing world. The heavy synthetic fertilizer inputs contribute to increasing contamination of waterways and aquifers.
Waste: Unsurprisingly, there is also an enormous amount of waste produced during the manufacturing of coffee.Coffee plants grow cherries where the beans are housed. The coffee cherries are picked, depulped (i.e., the outer pulp is removed from the cherry), fermented, and the coffee bean is left. According to research, the process of separating the the beans from the coffee cherries generates enormous volumes of waste material in the form of pulp, residual matter, and parchment. In fact, over a 6 month period, it was estimated that processing 547,000 tons of coffee in Central America generated as much as 1.1 million tons of pulp and polluted 110,000 cubic meters of water each day. This excess waste harms soil and water sources because the coffee pulp is often dumped into streams, severely degrading fragile systems. Fortunately, people have found better uses for the waste from coffee production. This includes composting coffee husks mixed with farm animal manure to use as organic fertilizer in farming practices.
Soil quality: The environmental impact of the coffee trade impacts the Earth's soil as well. Soil quality suffers when sun-grown practices are favored over traditional growing means. The elimination of shade cover can cause significant impacts on various soil quality parameters, with higher rates of erosion occurring on renovated coffee plantations where vegetation has been reduced.
An environmentally favored alternative to sun-grown coffee is shade-grown coffee. In this method, coffee plants are interspersed beneath a canopy of mature trees, mimicking the way coffee grows naturally in these regions. According to the American Birding Association (ABA), shade coffee plantations are second only to undisturbed forests as the best habitat for birds and other fauna in Latin America. Additionally, the birds control the insects allowing for higher yields. What’s more, the presence of vegetation amongst coffee plants reduces the need for intense herbicide preparations, supports at least 50% of the original forest snakes and spider fauna, and protects topsoil effectively.
Source: Dean's Beans