When you think of all the ways your daily life impacts the environment, you probably don’t think of your morning (and second morning, and afternoon) coffee. After all, plastic water bottles, driving everywhere, and leaving the lights on 24/7 are way worse, right?
Maybe, but coffee isn’t completely harmless either. The increased demand for coffee has led to over 2.5 million acres of cleared forest in Central America. Plus, Americans throw away more than 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year.
We can’t imagine life without coffee- but then again, we can’t imagine life without a healthy environment either. To that end, here are a few ways to make your next cup of coffee more environmentally friendly.
Read Your Labels
Venture beyond the tantalizing names of your favorite brews (“Island Coconut Coffee,” anyone?) and focus on the fine print denoting what certifications, if any, your coffee has. For example, a USDA Organic label means that your coffee was grown with a focus on biodiversity and without the use of damaging chemicals. A 100% Rainforest Alliance certification, meanwhile, verifies that several rigorous environmental standards were met to conserve natural resources.
While you have your reading glasses out, see if your coffee is Arabica or robusta. Robusta coffee is mass-produced in deforested areas using many chemicals, and farmers often mono-crop, which eventually causes soil erosion and removes nutrients from the soil. Arabica, on the other hand, tastes better than bitter robusta, but it’s a little fragile and requires more attention. It can be grown in the shade, cutting down on deforestation.
Coffee makers don’t put “robusta” on their labels, so look for coffee that says “100% Arabica.” Otherwise, you’ll get a mixed bag (literally- many coffee makers blend Arabica and robusta).
Buy Local and In Bulk
Forget international- buy coffee that’s as close to your home as possible (check out this list of U.S. coffee roasters for inspiration). You’ll cut down on fossil fuel needed to ship coffee products while also supporting your local economy. Plus, local roasters are more likely to have a relationship with their farmers; they’ll be able to answer your questions about the coffee’s origins and sustainability.
And, since you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be drinking coffee every day until the cows come home, you might as well buy in bulk. Buying in bulk eliminates excess packaging and reduces the fossil fuels used to get your coffee to you.
Try a French Press or Cold Brew
Unlike your trusty coffee maker, a French press isn’t electric, so it uses less energy. A cold brew coffee maker has the same energy-saving benefits, with the bonus of delivering a blend that’s less bitter and less acidic.
Nervous about trying either of these advanced coffee techniques for the first time? We broke them down for you:
Use a Reusable Travel Mug
Sure, you could just pop in the coffee shop by your office. Or, you could spend an extra ten seconds rooting through your cabinets to find your reusable travel mug. Fifty billion paper cups end up in landfills each year, and using travel mugs knocks that number down. Coffee companies are on board, too; for example, Starbucks discounts your drink when you bring in your own travel mug.
Giving up coffee in the name of the environment is a little extreme, and honestly, we’re not sure we want to see you without your daily dose of caffeine. Instead, make informed decisions about what kind of coffee you purchase and how you enjoy your java, whether it’s freshly made in a French press or taken on-the-go in one of the best travel mugs around. Save the coffee, save the world.