Sustainability can sometimes be confusing – especially when you don’t have all the facts. The coffee industry is no exception to that. What is the most sustainable way to brew coffee at home? How do you know that your coffee is sustainably sourced? What do you need to look out for? With those questions in mind, we wanted to discuss what you need to know about sustainability and coffee, and how we can all make it more environmentally and socially sustainable.
According to the British Coffee Association, the UK loves its coffee. We now drink approximately 95 million cups of coffee per day, 7 million of which are served in disposable paper coffee cups. Unfortunately, less than 1 in 400 is recycled. This is because the UK doesn’t have enough facilities capable of recycling the cups, and it’s an expensive process.
Furthermore, the Food Empowerment Project reports that coffee farmers typically earn only 7–10% of the retail price of coffee. Coupled with this is competition among growers, which has led to price reductions and undercutting. This leaves farmers with no safety margin when supply drops or bad weather hits. Unfortunately, this has led to cycles of exploitation by large companies.
At Balance Coffee, we are committed to sustainability both in terms of the environment and social issues. We always ensure that we choose the suppliers and coffee farmers who we work with extremely carefully. We buy higher-priced coffees, which means that more of the profit goes to the farmers. This improves the living standards of coffee producers, and in turn allows them to reinvest in more eco-friendly farming practices.
How you can help make coffee more sustainable
1. Take a hard look at where and who you buy your coffee from
There are many different things to look for when you choose to buy your coffee. First of all, you should take a look at the coffee roaster’s sustainability practices. What are they doing to reduce their impact on the environment? For example, here at Balance Coffee we have reduced our water usage by 33% in our roastery, we carry out deliveries in our electric van when possible, and our packaging is carbon neutral.
It is also important to remember that coffee without ‘organic’ or ‘Fairtrade’ labelling doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been produced sustainably. While organic certifications are synonymous with more responsible production, smaller farms find it difficult to afford them. We would therefore suggest looking for more detailed information about the coffee and how it has been sourced. For example, we source all of our coffee from direct trade or cooperatives. We always provide information about the farms on our packaging, including the country and region of origin, and full details can be found in our product descriptions.
2. Make coffee at home
Firstly, making coffee at home reduces energy usage. Coffee shops often use vast amounts of energy to make coffee. In fact, research shows that 60% of the carbon footprint of coffee comes from the point of service, where the coffee is prepared and served. This makes a lot of sense. Coffee machines (such as commercial-grade espresso machines) are in use for approximately 12 hours per day – much more than your average home kettle.
Andrew Tucker of Sanremo UK writes that espresso machines with a large single boiler use up more than 72kWh in 12 hours. In contrast, the average household kettle uses about 0.1 kWh of electricity to boil for 3 minutes. Clearly, the energy required to brew a pot of coffee with a French press or pour-over is much less than a constantly-running an espresso machine.
Making coffee at home also means that you can compost the coffee grounds.This is very easy – just throw the grounds (and any used unbleached filters) on your compost heap. As the coffee grounds degrade, they will release nitrogen and create a rich, lovely compost. You can also spread the coffee grounds on flower beds of plants as fertiliser. Plants such as hydrangeas or azaleas will love the acidity.
If you do buy coffee out, we encourage you to take your own reusable cup. Some coffee shops will even give you a discount if you do this! We now sell a sustainable cork keep cup that you can use. You could also choose to sit and enjoy your drink using the coffee shop’s mugs and glasses rather than rushing off with a disposable paper cup.
3. On the whole, you shouldn’t use pods/capsules
If you decide to make your coffee at home, make sure that you don’t use coffee capsules or pods. Unfortunately, they have been gaining in popularity. According to Eco & Beyond: In 2014, pods accounted for 34% of all coffee sales – a massive growth of 133,710% since 2000.
While they might be convenient, the majority are not eco-friendly. This includes some pods that are labelled as ‘recyclable’. Some need to be taken apart, emptied and cleaned before they can be recycled. If you don’t do this perfectly and still put them in the recycling, this will contaminate the whole batch, which will be rejected and sent to the landfill. It defeats the purpose of recycling them at all, and let’s be honest: the coffee never tastes quite the same as the real stuff!
A more sustainable option is brewing freshly ground coffee in an Aeropress.
It takes between 45-60 seconds to make a delicious cup of coffee, and the filter papers can simply be put in the compost along with the coffee grounds. This process is a lot more sustainable, and it’ll produce a better brew.
Ways we can all be more sustainable
Outside of coffee, there are many different things we can all do to be more sustainable. Take a look at all of the companies you buy from. There are many brands that are coming up with unique ways to positively impact our environment. One great example is Wolfe Academy. Created by Oly and Charlotte, they make ethical and sustainable apparel inspired by the outdoor life.
Through a combination of innovative product design, low impact organic agriculture, efficiency in manufacturing and the use of renewable energy, many of their garments are classified as carbon neutral. They are screen printed in Somerset using eco-friendly water-based inks and hand-finished in Wiltshire. Wolfe Academy offers an alternative to fast fashion and mass consumption.
We think it is time for everyone to choose sustainability, whether that’s through making coffee at home or buying from environmentally-friendly brands such as Wolfe Academy. By making small changes, we can all make a positive impact on the environment and people’s lives.
Wolfe Academy’s photos by @jakewsmallwood.
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