Rethinking your coffee habits

For many of us, that fresh cup of coffee makes mornings manageable, and the last thing we want to hear is that we should be depriving ourselves of this simple pleasure. So don’t worry, we’re not going to tell you to drink less coffee, but we are going to talk about what the carbon emissions are from your cup of coffee, and how you can reduce these. 

The emissions: Poore and Nemececk (2018) estimate that one average cup of coffee is equivalent to 0.4 kg CO2e. This is roughly equal to the emissions associated with driving an average car 2km. However, these emissions vairy depending on many factors:

Certification of beans:

Not all coffee is produced equal, and some coffee can have detrimental effects on the biodiversity and deforestation. None will be perfect but certification schemes like the Rainforest AllianceFair for Life or Bird Friendly are good to look out for. Your local coffee sellers might have a direct trade agreement with producers, so it’s worth asking them about the environmental impacts of their coffee.

How do you make your coffee? 

Do you have a habit of guessing how many beans you need to grind, or overfilling your spoon with granules? Measuring out the right amount of coffee can often make for a better cup, and also means you don’t need to replenish your stock as soon.

The way you make your coffee can help reduce leftovers being thrown away. Using an AeroPress or a French press can help with this. AeroPress requires a filter, which are often thin paper sheets but reusable metal filters are also available.

Single-serve capsules are a more wasteful method of coffee preparation, with many of the capsules being tricky to recycle. There are some compostable pods available, but we advise experimenting with minimal waste techniques first. 

Experiment with different milk types

Dairy milk from cows, has a high carbon footprint. In fact, the dairy milk in your coffee will likely have a higher carbon footprint than the coffee itself. So you can easily reduce your carbon footprint by switching to alternative milks. Oat and soy milks have the lowest environmental impact. Barista-style oat milk seems to be the most popular choice for hot drinks. 

If you already drink your coffee black, you won’t have to think about any emissions from milk!

Coffee cups

Next, we need to consider drinking coffee on the move. Every year in the UK, we throw out 2.5 billion coffee cups! With less than 1% of these being recycled, it’s worth investing in a reusable coffee cup and keeping this in your work bag ready for those trips out for coffee. You could also consider prioritising time to sit inside and use a mug. 

The coffee grounds conundrum:

The final issue is what to do with the leftover coffee grounds. There are a lot of innovative projects out there. Used beans can be turned into burnable coffee logs, but the best solution for the home-user is to add them to your compost or to use them as fertiliser in your garden. Some coffee-selling businesses will participate in dedicated coffee ground recycling schemes.

We hope these suggestions help you think about your coffee habits, and how you could reduce the emissions associated with these.