Humans like their small luxuries. Coffee consumption has been an inseparable part of civilization for half a millennium at the very least, and “coffee culture” has a special place of its own in the modern age.
Contrary to popular belief, coffee does not actually stand right behind oil as the most traded commodity on the planet, but the question of the coffee industry’s sustainability isn’t any less critical. It’s an especially important concern if you’re a coffee shop owner trying to go green.
The problem is everything but the coffee beans
Disposable coffee cups made from paper, Styrofoam, and plastic are everything but eco-friendly. Just imagine what sort of an impact on the environment the coffee industry has when customer requirements necessitate cutting down 20 million trees to fulfill the paper cup quota. Styrofoam ends up in mountains of landfills that are going to scar the Earth for at least 500 years.
When you consider the wasted glass, plastic, ceramic, electricity, and energy necessary for brewing, you can finally see that it’s about far more than coffee beans. In fact, most of the ecological issues arise out of this ‘residue.’
And the buck doesn’t stop there. The deforestation brought on by the coffee industry is alarming, with over 2.5 million acres of Central American forests having been cut down to make room for coffee farming.
The impact of k-cups
There’s something undeniably satisfying about clicking the k-cup into a coffee machine and letting it brew up an instant, aromatic beverage that keeps your blood pumping. We easily create stacks upon stacks of these minuscule objects and rarely do we ponder on their effects on the environment.
As a matter of fact, it turns out they’re just as criticized for their polluting effect as they’re lauded for their convenience. When we’re on the topic of how bad k-cups are for the environment, it’s important to point out that only 5% of the materials used to make them are recyclable. The other 95% is made from a complex composite of plastics that can’t be recycled in most places.
Thankfully, companies that produce these items have caught up to this, and they’re distributing a new generation of cup pods that are BPI certified and 100% degradable within 12 days after use. These eco-friendly alternatives are already accessible, so you can make the switch ASAP.
Paper cups are practically standard everywhere. But even though they’re called ‘paper cups,’ they’re also lined with polyethylene to hold the liquid. 100% biodegradable cups are a growing industry, and while you can rely on this as a fall-back for the customers in a hurry, it’s best to try a different method.
For example, you can encourage customers to bring their own reusable cups every day. If you offer a discount to anyone who starts practicing this, you’ll be surprised to see how many people will readily get on board. You can also offer to wash their cup on the spot before refilling it so they don’t have to lose precious time on this activity.
Make sure to do thorough research before buying an espresso machine so that you can find the most energy-efficient version available. They usually have a multi-boiler system which leaves you with a lot of wiggle room for energy saving options.
On top of that, stick to the reusable filters to avoid more waste. You can seek out the types of filters that are chlorine-free to some degree, but reusability should be your priority. While buying metal filters doesn’t sound particularly green, they will last for a long time, and they tend to give a distinctly richer aroma to the brew.
Always purchase locally
This cannot be stressed enough: as long as you are buying goods locally, you’re reaping multiple benefits for yourself and the community. Buy coffee from local roasters and seek out the nearest (possibly privately owned) milk farms. This will support the local economy and reduce the carbon footprint.
Your voracious appetite for coffee may seem like a harmless personal matter. After all, the drink has been deemed safe and even healthy to consume in moderate amounts. But the sheer amount of disposable materials ending up in the environment as the coffee journeys from the tree to your mouth is staggering. We all need to look beyond coffee’s effect on us as individuals and strive to make coffee culture more eco-conscious.
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Caitlin is a bookworm and a medical student. She is particularly interested in topics related to science, nutrition, and well-being. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and Universe, Caitlin is researching and writing about various health-related topics. She is happily addicted to art in all its forms, blogging, and grilled tofu. To see what Caitlin is up to next, check out her Twitter dashboard.
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