Enjoy Your Coffee With Less Waste

Can you drink your daily cup of joe more sustainably?

If you’re like me, you like the brand of coffee you buy, or have a favorite coffee shop you frequent, and don’t want to make big changes to your coffee habits. You’re probably a busy person and don’t need extra hassle in your life. So, how can you easily reduce the coffee-associated refuse, without sacrificing the taste you prefer?

Here are some suggestions, possibilities, and tips.

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At the Coffee Shop

If you aren’t brewing your own java, you don’t have any control over the making process. But that doesn’t put you out of the loop; you have some earth-friendlier options:

  • If you’re drinking it there, ask for a ceramic cup, rather than a disposable one.
  • Bring your own cup or travel mug. Many disposable coffee cups are not recyclable, few coffee shops have recycling options, and if you’re getting coffee to go, there may be no convenient recycling bin at your final destination. Packing your own cup solves this. As an added benefit, some coffee shops, such as Peet’s and Starbucks, offer a small discount, typically 10 cents a cup, for bringing your own cup.
  • In January 2024, Starbucks introduced the nation’s first reusable cup for drive-through and mobile orders — previously, on in-store orders were eligible for reusable containers.
  • If you must use one of the shop’s disposable cups, and you need to protect your hand and fingers from the heat, use a “hot cup sleeve” rather than using two cups. And when you’re done with it, hang onto the sleeve — there’s no reason you can’t reuse it many times.

Brewing Your Own

For the home coffee brewer, it’s not hard to reduce disposables, recyclables, and even compostables.
For example, are you a K-cup user? Get reusable, refillable K-cup pods so you don’t throw out the pre-packed single-use pods. You’ll reduce your plastic waste and probably get a lot more coffee for your money.

If you use filters, you have lots of choices:

  • Look for chlorine-free unbleached filters, they’re more ecologically friendly.
  • Reduce your per-cup paper use by switching to a smaller filter. For example, try the AeroPress coffee maker, which uses 2 1/2-inch flat circle filters that cost less than two cents each. You can even wash and reuse them — and they’re compostable. I’ve been happily using an AeroPress for several years now.
  • For cone/basket drippers, consider a reusable metal or cloth filter instead of throwing your money away on boxes of disposable paper filters. (There are also reusable metal filters for the AeroPress.)
  • Consider switching to a French press coffee maker, which uses a wire filter.

To be fair, some caffeine aficionados may feel that these changes in filters and coffee makers negatively impact their brew’s taste.

Also, be on the look-out for sustainability accessories. For example, if you’re a Nespresso coffee capsule user, consider getting a Nessie Press (roughly $25) and to clean your coffee capsules for recycling. According to Sur La Table, “Not only does [the Nessie Press] two-part gadget crush individual aluminum coffee capsules for recycling, but it also separates the grounds, which can then be added to garden soil or compost bins. Works with original, aluminum Nespresso brand capsules only.”

Got Grounds? Compost Them!

You can add your coffee grounds to your compost pile, in your flower beds, and for worm-farming. (Some people even use grounds in DIY beauty products.) It’s a good idea to do a bit of homework on using coffee grounds for gardening, since there’s some compost management involved. If you don’t have a garden, here are some other uses for coffee grounds around the house.

Overall, it doesn’t feel that hard to caffeinate sustainably — and it may even save a few bucks in the process.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 9, 2022, and updated in January 2024.