RETHINK: Coffee: Zero Waste Style

Zero waste coffee isn’t as time consuming at you may think. It also tastes better in my opinion since it’s fresh.

If you use coffee capsules, such as Keurig, and don’t want to change to a more zero waste option, please consider offsetting the single use disposable item by purchasing a Coffee Capsules – Zero Waste Box™ from TerraCycle. The box will be lighter if you let the capsules dry out first.

Keurig does sell a reusable K-cup. There are also generic versions. Check the model number to make sure it is compatible. These reusable K-cups are available were the k-cups are sold. These are good if you like the Keurig set up but prefer your own coffee bean. You can dump the grinds into the compost and rinse the K-cup. These are mostly or all plastic still so please keep that in mind if reducing plastic is something you are looking to do.

If you like single-use to-go cups, please see below. TO-GO COFFEE CUPS GO IN THE TRASH. You can recycle the plastic lid and the paper hot sleeves, not the cup.

Reducing your plastic use doesn’t have to mean limiting your coffee consumption, but it does mean giving up single-use coffee cups. Most disposable coffee cups are made with a plastic-based coating that holds liquid and insulates the cup, which means it can’t be recycled or composted. Instead, opt to bring your own travel mug or cup to get your daily fix. Many coffee shops even offer discounts to customers who bring their own cups. And while you are slurping down your favorite beverage, don’t forget to refuse a straw or bring your own reusable or compostable one.

Many reusable to-go coffee cups are still plastic, or at least the lid is. Think about what is important to you and try to purchase a durable cup that fits your needs, and environmental and health goals. Also remember to consider if you will be using it in the car, if it will fit in the car holder, and if it needs to have a sealed lid to go in your bag. I’ll write a separate post on reusable drinking vessels.

Please keep in mind the main tenant of zero waste. Please try and use items until they wear out (pending health concerns of course), repair/replace if you can, then try to buy second hand. After all those attempts, then purchase new products.

In our house we make drip coffee in the Chemix Pour-over Glass Coffeemaker pictured above. It comes in several sizes and with a handle version. In addition to being more zero waste, I also try and avoid single-use plastic and plastic in general if alternatives are available. There is no plastic in this setup. All the materials can be recycled or composted.

Chemex filters come in natural or standard white. The box is 100% paper and recyclable. There’s not even tape! The filters are compostable with the coffee grounds.

Coffee filters and coffee grounds can go in the City of Austin compost carts and/or backyard compost systems.

I just found out that there are reusable metal Chemex filters! They have a silicone lip, but the rest is metal: steel or titanium coated gold. I haven’t tried them but check them out if you’re interested. Please be aware that some people think metal filters (Chemex or drip coffee) change the flavor of he coffee. Some love this some hate this. If you try a reusable filter and it’s not for you, please sell your test items instead of storing or tossing them.

Reusable Chemex filter example. Used with permission Marilyn Briles. 

We grind whole beans the day of brewing in the Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder, the number one choice on Wirecutter’s The Best Coffee Grinder list. Yes, the grinder is made of plastic but many are and this quality product has lasted 5 years and the beans have limited contact with the plastic.

I was so excited to find a completely plastic free gooseneck kettle, the recommended kettle type for pour-over coffee. This is the
Takahiro Drip Coffee Pot. It’s expensive, but with the heat exposure at this point of the coffee making process, I didn’t want my hand or the water contacting plastic. It’s also quality material, durable and visually appealing. We also make cold brew coffee in the fridge with wide mouth mason jars.

The National Coffee Association USA recommends coffee storage in a
opaque, air-tight container at room temperature. The following container meets these criteria and Anderson’s Coffee will measure out a pound of whole beans and pour them in for us. This container could also be weighed and the weight removed at the register of a store capable of this with a bulk coffee station.

We store our beans in the Coffee Gator Stainless Steel Container. I tried a few ceramic containers with a wood and silicone lid; however none of them fit 1 pound of whole beans. The lid is plastic; however it will not be coming in contact with the beans, and the style of this container (releasing the CO2) will allow our coffee to last longer therefore avoiding waste. Most coffee bags are a composite/mix material of paper and plastic or plastic and metal. They go in the trash.

Most stores have bulk/loose coffee, it’s just a matter of figuring out if you can use your own container. Not all stores can take the weight of a reusable container off at the register so ask first. You could also try to weigh a container, tare the scale, protect the scale!, pour the beans into your container, and then put everything back on the scale and type in the bean ID number to only get charged for the beans. I have not had success protecting the tared scale at Central Market but perhaps you’ll have better luck. HEB is so busy I haven’t tried. There are less customers right after opening, but HEB is stocking then and it’s like a maze getting around all the boxes on dolleys.

French Presses are another good alternative to possibly reduce the amount of plastic coffee is exposed to. Check what the plunger/press inside the carafe is made of though. The left here is metal, the right here is plastic. Both inside lids and handles are plastic.

Most drip and programmable coffee makers expose the hot water to plastic in the plastic reservoir. So keep this in mind if you like the traditional pot of coffee.

If you’re a drip coffee classicist, there are reusable metal filters for drip machines that could cut the costs of filters. They are usually metal and plastic.

I haven’t seen many good reviews of reusable cloth filters of any shape or design for pour-over or drip coffee. Again, we get back to what’s important to you: avoiding plastic, avoiding virgin paper products, avoiding the bleaching chemicals in white filters, having reusables vs. compostables, etc. Think about what matters to you, and try to do just a little bit more.

If your plug-in coffee maker dies, it can be recycled at the Austin Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center, Best Buy and Goodwill. Please donate any usable items. Check the Austin Reuse Directory for those posting needs.

If your French Press breaks, you can take it apart and recycle it at the Scrap Metal and Hard Plastics stations at the Austin Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center. See if there are replacement parts for your model first, but if they aren’t available, please recycle responsibly.

More great ideas for low tech and lower footprint coffee are in Treehugger’s article 9 low-tech ways to brew great coffee with minimal waste.