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Sustainable and Zero Waste Coffee Guide

Sustainable and Zero Waste Coffee Guide

31 Day Zero Waste Challenge

Last Updated on September 2, 2022

Zero waste coffee can be achieved with a few adjustments in your daily schedule. You will still be able to enjoy your beloved cup of joe without the waste!

Choosing sustainable coffee cups and eco friendly coffee are just a couple of ways you can start your journey to zero waste coffee! This guide will help you challenge yourself and commit to cutting back on waste!

zero waste coffee

sustainable coffee

It’s day four of the zero waste challenge: zero waste coffee! This is the beginning of the challenge, and it’s mainly focused on simple changes you can make to enjoy eco coffee while being environmentally friendly too.

Today we’re talking about zero waste coffee.

Americans are addicted to coffee (a third of the United States drinks coffee daily). Today, I challenge you to find a zero waste coffee habit that works for you.

Prefer video content? Scroll down to the bottom of the page.

the problem:

Today, I challenge you to refuse single use takeaway coffee cups. Instead, choose sustainable coffee cups!

Counting just Starbucks alone, we threw away 4 billion coffee cups in 2017. That’s insane.

Unfortunately, most of the paper cups you receive at coffee shops are actually lined with plastic. YUCK!

This means they aren’t recyclable in most facilities in the United States.

It requires a special piece of machinery to rip the plastic lining out so they can recycle the paper from the cup. So, the cups usually end up in the landfill.

Thankfully, there’s a pretty easy, simple fix. Some of the links below are affiliate links — if you have any questions please read my disclosure policy.

options you have to refuse takeaway cups:

make your eco friendly coffee at home:

If you already are making your eco coffee at home, there are a ton of methods that you can do that doesn’t require making any trash.

If you have a Keurig or a pod system coffee cup, they make refillable k-cups and refillable pods. This way, you don’t have to throw away your pod waste.

Here are some methods for making zero waste coffee at home:

  • Italian method – Use a stove-top stainless steel Moka pot guaranteed to last for years with proper maintenance.

  • French press – Simply add some ground coffee and boiling water, allow it to sit for a few minutes, then press the plunger down to access your cup of fresh, sustainable coffee that is plastic free. (I also use my French press to make tea!)

  • Pour overThe ChemX is a zero waste favorite. They make reusable filters too, but their paper filters are made from biodegradable paper, which can be composted.

  • Espresso machine – The traditional espresso machine compacts fresh coffee into a small holding device, then forces piping hot water through it. This is a newer version of the espresso machine I had at work, and I LOVED it.

  • Turkish coffee – Uses extremely fine coffee grounds which are stirred into boiling water and served without filtration.

  • Drip machines – Your regular drip machine coffee pot works great too! They make reusable filters for those as well.

leftover coffee grounds

Enjoy your cup of delicious sustainable coffee! Now, depending on which method you choose, you may have coffee grounds left over.

If that’s the case, you can compost them or make them into a fragrant body scrub!

You can get my coffee scrub recipe in my new book 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste, that’s available for pre-order!

(In the book, you’ll find tons of never before seen recipes for zero waste beauty products, recipes using food scraps, cleaning products, and more.)

bring your sustainable coffee cups to the coffee shop:

Did you know that Starbucks will actually pay you to bring your own travel mug?

You can bring your own thermos or sustainable coffee cups to any coffee shop, and you will often receive a small credit towards your purchase.

It can be really scary to ask for something to go in your own container for the first time, but I have NEVER been turned down at a coffee shop.

Typically, they’ll just ask you to remove the lid of your cup for sanitary reasons.

sustainable coffee cups tips

  • My best tip is to know how many ounces your cup holds. This way, the barista won’t even think about making it in their disposable cup and then transferring it to yours.
  • My favorite thermoses are made with double insulated stainless steel because this will keep your drink hot without burning your hands.

I have a Yeti travel mug and a Klean Kanteen with a cafe cup.

Neither are safe to throw in your bag. You have to hold them upright.

If you want one that you can throw in your bag and go, I suggest getting a leakproof lid like the loop cap for the klean kanteen.

Most of the time, I don’t want to carry a thermos AND a water bottle, so I just use one item for both tasks.

I LOVE my insulated water bottles.

They’re leak proof and they keep cold drinks from sweating and hot drinks from burning my hands. My favs are Klean Kanteen and Healthy Human.

It’s great because I don’t have to worry about carrying multiple items with me and I can simply rinse and reuse them.

ask for your coffee to stay:

Make sure to specify that you’d like it in a real mug. Even Starbucks has real mugs — you just have to ask for one.

If you’re in a hurry, you can also get your coffee at a drinkable temperature while getting it in a real mug. Just ask your barista!

This way, your coffee will come out a little bit cooler, and you can drink it immediately without burning your tongue.

If you’re in a super hurry and can’t stay in the cafe, then go ahead and ask for your coffee without the top. What we in the zero waste community refer to as going topless. 😉

The top of hot coffee cups is plastic number 6: It’s polystyrene, more commonly known as Styrofoam.

It is not recyclable, and it’s pretty toxic, so having that hot liquid constantly come through that top isn’t the best for your health. And, you’d be avoiding that piece of plastic.

frequently asked questions

what makes a coffee brand sustainable?

A sustainable coffee brand is one whose production and sale takes into account the need to safeguard both the natural environment and the livelihoods of those who work in the coffee industry. What we mean by “sustainable coffee” is java that is cultivated in a way that reduces environmental impact and boosts earnings for the farmers and mill workers involved in its production.

take the zero waste coffee challenge!

Over the next 27 days, your challenge is to avoid disposable coffee cups and keurig pods.

If you’re out and forget to bring a thermos and don’t have time to sip it in a cafe, I challenge you to skip that coffee.

Today, research and find a method that works best for you. Is it using a French press or Moka pot?

Is it easiest just to take a travel mug with you to get your coffee on the go?

Or are you enjoying your coffee to stay in a real mug and using that downtime as a creative outlet to write, read, or maybe just sneak in some you time?

You have an abundance of options to choose from. Which one will you be doing?

Will you be taking the challenge?

want more?

Just starting out? Have 1,000 burning questions!? Get access to my private Facebook group, where I’ll be hosting weekly lives throughout the challenge and I answer all of your most pressing questions.

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  1. I’m a big fan of making cold brew concentrate with something like a Filtrom or Toddy. This way, you make concentrate a pound of beans at a time, and it keeps in the fridge for weeks. It’s also lower acid than most traditional brews. Mix a little concentrate with hot or cold water for your favorite beverage. For reusable mugs, the best by far is the Joveo: it has an internal layer of phase change material to cool hot coffee to a non-tongue-burning temperature, and a vacuum layer to keep your coffee hot for hours.

  2. There’s also a glass and metal pour-over by Primula that works great for a single cup of coffee at home. I bought mine on Amazon. Andrew, great idea with the cold brew!

  3. I follow your rule above that if I forget my reusable cup I can’t get coffee while out (usually Starbucks). However, the past couple times I asked for coffee in my cup at Starbucks I watched the barista make it in a plastic cup then pour into mine. I called them out on it and submitted online feedback, but ultimately decided to not give Starbucks my business anymore. Also, I love making coffee ground body scrubs!

  4. Kathryn, first-thanks for all the energy you have devoted to creating this outstanding website to guide us through the sustainability process. I despise the taste of coffee made using a keurig coffee maker in addition to the pod waste and the cost factor. On Amazon as well as on the Melitta.com website I found a Melitta Pour Over Coffee Cone Brewer $10-$18 that exceeded my expectations. I need a jump start in the morning and coffee brewed using this product manages to snap me to life.

  5. This is a lovely idea and I wish it were possible, but it’s not zero waste coffee if the bag the coffee came in can’t be recycled, and almost every single bag on the market (I’ve done many hours of research) cannot be recycled, unless you spend $55 to send a box of them to Terracycle. Please let me know if you find a company that sells coffee on the internet in fully recycleable bags. I suppose I could buy Illy in the can but I don’t like the taste. Zero Waste is a wonderful idea though and I’m glad this website exists. Thank you.