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Green Your Caffeine

Can you believe that every day, citizens of our planet down 2.5 billion cups of coffee?  And that in America alone, more than 450 million servings of “joe” are quaffed daily?

By any measure that’s a lot of caffeine.  And as we are prone to do at SCGH, think about the stunning amounts of waste those Herculean numbers create.  All those coffee filters and grounds, and all those paper cups, enough yearly to circle the globe 55 times when placed end to end!

Thus “Green Your Caffeine” is here, inspired by a story from our sister publication, Sierra Magazine.  Thankfully, there are several things you can do to have less impact on the ecosystem while still getting your morning fix of java.  Here they are:

  • First, use a French coffee press instead of a traditional coffee pot.  The coffee press does not require a paper filter, as it has a built in metal filtration system.  It is very simple to use, you don’t need to be trying out for Iron Chef to pour in the ground coffee and hot water, then slowly squeeze the plunger and presto!  A cup of coffee that can taste even better than a filtered cup, minus the yucchy coffee grinds and stained paper filter – which usually go directly to the landfill.
  • Second, buy the right kinds of coffee.  There are several labeling systems that tell you what you are buying is indeed environmentally friendly.  “USDA Organic” assures you that no pesticides or chemicals were used to grow the beans.  “Fair Trade Certified” means that the farmers and workers who grow the coffee were treated humanely and paid a fair day’s wage in safe working conditions.  “Shade Grown” means the coffee was grown according to Smithsonian Institution guidelines to protect migrating birds.  And finally, “Rainforest Alliance Certified” is yet another assurance that the beans were grown according to proper “green” standards.  Any or all of these labels are emblazoned on the packaging of the coffees you should be buying.
  • Next, abandon paper cups in favor of reuseable mugs.  These insulated mugs are usually made of aluminum, stainless steel, ceramic, rubber and in some cases BPA-free plastic.  They are durable, keep your drink hot, and offer spill-proof tops.  Bring your own if you are buying your morning brew from a coffee shop.  In case you think they get stained and are hard to clean, not so.  Simply soak them a bit with a little vinegar and lemon with water, they’ll be good as new with a little bit of scrubbing.  And you’ll be saving many pounds of paper per year.
  • I happen to like both coffee and tea.  Nothing against the coffee industry, but tea is significantly better for our planet.  Why?  Because for every seven gallons of water needed in the manufacturing process for tea, coffee requires 36 gallons to yield the same amount of final product.  That is an enormous water savings that can be recognized by crossing over to become a tea-only person.
  • Use an electric heating pot or mug to heat your water, for either coffee or tea.  This is more energy efficient than heating it on the stove.  If you don’t have one available, use the microwave it’s second best for energy efficiency.
  • Finally, compost your used coffee grounds, even with the filter if you don’t have a coffee press.  In a short time, you will have high quality fertilizer that can be used in your garden.  How’s that for closing the circle on “greening your caffeine”?

24 Responses to “Green Your Caffeine”

  1. Valerie Says:

    After making coffee, I’ve been composting the unbleached paper filters along with the grounds and they are breaking down just fine.

  2. Mikey T. Says:

    I love coffee in the morning and have to have mine- never thought about the filter situation and never knew about the birds, but I do now– french presses though- they are great!

  3. Jesslin213 Says:

    What about the fact that it it takes 36 gallons of water just to create 1 cup of actual coffee! THat makes me really reconsider drinking down the Starbucks everyday.

  4. Tobeytalksalot Says:

    Tea is a much better alternative to coffee- still has just about as much caffeine (more depending on how you brew it and what type) and uses a lot less water. You can find this information on

  5. awright Says:

    @ Valerie: I use unbleached too knowing that they decompose faster also, but are they biodegradeable?
    Coffee grinds are great to compost and now there’s a report out that says they can produce energy??? Wow!

  6. Kathryn Grace Says:

    Glad to see this. Individual choices every day add up to mega problems or mega solutions. Thanks for helping us create mega solutions!

  7. Eileen Says:

    Tea is also a lot cheaper than coffee.

  8. Joan Says:

    I buy organic fair trade coffee from Trader Joe’s at a very fair price. Sorry do not have a French press but prefer not to make only one cup at a time.

  9. emmer Says:

    to biodegrade is to readily break down into smaller, simpler compounds…pretty much the same def as compost, tho you would want your compost to specifically decompose aerobically.
    if you are sticking with brewing coffee for a while you might make or purchase unbleached muslin filters and reuse them.
    here’s a scary fact to encourage you to go to a french press, or even better, tea:
    most chemical reactions are speeded up with the addition of heat, as in the hot water you make your coffee with. your water, unless you filter it, has chlorine in it. your coffee grounds and your coffee filter have carbon in them. chlorine plus carbon equals dioxins. add heat, speed up process. yum. this would be one of the same problems facing paper mills who bleach the wood pulp so the paper is bright white. dioxins are a group of about 75 chemical formulas that top the list of evil stuff humans should never have made.

  10. Kit Says:

    I belong to the Audubon Society and am so happy to see the news about shade grown coffee farms getting out to the general public. Many of the birds we love in U.S. go south for the winter and if deforestation continues, many will die. Shade grown coffee farms provide a much needed alternative to sun coffee which is grown with pesticides with no trees around.

  11. Linda A. Says:

    Very interesting and informative blog post. But, “If it can work for “Good Morning America”‘s Sam Champion, it can work for you,” well, yeah, it COULD, that is, if I had Sam’s bank account. (Going green shouldn’t have to mean breaking the bank.) Besides, I usually drink only one cup of coffee a week. Yes, that’s right. One cup a WEEK. Caffeine has no effect on me, except that it’s good for getting rid of headaches. I DO like tea, but although I like it, I’m still not much of a tea drinker because I’m just not in the habit of drinking it. I grew up on coffee. (Being of Scandinavian heritage, it just goes with the territory. I’ve been drinking coffee since I was about four or five years old. {|-))

    I MUCH prefer mugs to paper cups. Not only are mugs resusable and thereby eco-friendly, but, you can get mugs that suit your personality, interests, etc. Mugs are just plain more fun than paper cups. :-) If you don’t want to see coffee (or tea) stains in your mugs, use dark-colored mugs, then the stains won’t show. Or, if you want to use light-colored mugs, clean out the stains with warm to hot water with just a LITTLE bit of bleach added (you don’t need much at all), and with the bleach, you won’t need to do any scrubbing, although lemon juice and vinegar is admittedly the more eco-friendly route. Baking soda just might work, too.

    You’re right, Eileen, tea is MUCH cheaper than coffee. Also, ground coffee is MUCH cheaper than instant. Between $8.00 to around $10.00 for an eight- to ten-ounce jar of instant coffee? OUTRAGEOUS!! YIKES!!

  12. David F Says:

    I was actually somewhat disappointed with “Green Your Caffeine” article and GMA Appearance. Nothing really new learned here and with a GMA audience at your disposal I would expect something more meaning full and informative. Im mean really, coffee? Is that the best you can come up with? There is no shortgage of innovative companies out there now that provide innovative eco solutions to the masses.

    Who drinks coffee? I would think people of 18+ in age. What about all the people who dont drink coffee or under that age group?

    You guys missed the boat on this one.

  13. gollygee Says:

    Thanks to the publishers. Great article. Points out some interesting things I hadn’t thought about. Can’t be converted to tea but I’ll have a go at one of those “French Press”.

  14. Jean P. Says:

    I enjoyed all the green tips about coffee and tea. I make
    my 2 cups of coffee every morning and use one of my many
    mugs. I also use one when I have a cup of tea – twice a
    day. I like lemon in tea and that cuts some of the stain.
    For coffee and tea stain I use a few sprays of Dollar
    General cleaner with bleach and some water. It goes away
    very quickly. I will consider some of the suggestions
    given for the coffee grounds and filters – good ideas.

  15. carlos suenos Says:

    Dear Friends of nature.Did anyone knew that the coffee grounds still retain around 30% oil. Better than corn and sugar cane.Get togethre and collect it, I didn’t know the amount of water consumed. Shouldn’t feel guilty, but I do. At least we make it up with ground oil!

  16. Richard Waters Says:

    You forgot to mention Moka pots which use no paper and the water is heated in the pot itself. Moka Pots can make strong coffee but the amount can be adjusted.

    Also there is no need to compost the coffee grounds as you can use them as a mulch but they should only be used on acid loving plants.

    And if you buy green coffee beans which are cheaper and a hot air popper you can roast your own coffee. Throw away the plastic top to the hot air popper and use a tin can that has both ends cut out for the new chimney. You can roast a pound in less than 30 minutes which will be much fresher than what you purchase already roasted.

  17. jim adams Says:

    I googled “Unfiltered coffee and cholesterol” and got this:

    “To date, coffee consumption is not directly associated with heart disease. However, two diterpenes found in high amounts in unfiltered coffee, cafestol and kahweol, have been found to actually raise cholesterol levels. These studies examined different types of unfiltered coffee, as well as coffee oil. Most studies have indicated that individuals consuming roughly 60 milligrams of cafestol (equivalent to ten cups of unfiltered, French press coffee or two grams of coffee oil) may raise total cholesterol levels by an average of about 20 percent. This is largely due to an increase in low density lipoprotein (LDL) levels and triglyceride levels. High density lipoproteins (HDL) do not appear to be affected.

    Although the mechanism by which cafestol and kahweol raised cholesterol were largely unknown, a study performed on mice at Baylor College in Houston, indicates that this compound may activate a protein called farsenoid X receptor (FXR) in the intestine, which affects a gene called fibroblast growth factor 15 (FGF15). When this gene is activated, it can reduce the effects of three genes in the liver involved in cholesterol regulation. In other words, cholesterol levels increase when cafestol and kahweol are present due to their ability to activate this gene.

    So, if you are trying to watch your cholesterol levels, you may want to lower your consumption of unfiltered coffee beverages. Brewing coffee through a filter appears to remove most of the cafestol and kahweol components in coffee. Additionally, additives to coffee such as cream may also contribute to fat content and raise cholesterol levels.”

    Sorry …but the information is out there, and for us with high cholesterol … it can be important. Thanks for sharing, jim

  18. Dom Says:

    This was a fantastic piece that really made me put down my cup. Literally. I drink about 2 cups a day. That’s roughly 14 cups a week…. which by simple calculation, it takes approximately 504 gallons of water to give me my measly 2 cups of coffee everyday?! WTH?! Suddenly I don’t feel the urge to drink as much anymore. I am a fan of tea, but I’m really going to pay closer attention to my coffee intake. 504 gallons! That’s just insane!

  19. CloudSkiies Says:

    I’ll be honest- I’m addicted to my coffee. But as the last person mentioned, I just couldn’t believe what it takes to make just one cup. I actually went to the store this weekend and bought tea for the first time ever. Going to give it a try. Wasting that much water for just a cup of coffee that, let’s face it, doesn’t even keep me awake like it used to, just doesn’t seem worth it anymore.

  20. Rebecca Nyberg Says:

    If you think producing that cup of coffee uses a lot of water, you’ll want to put down your glass of orange juice, and don’t even think about eating a hamburger (634 gallons). A beer, on the other hand, uses half the water of a cup of joe.

  21. Gary O Says:

    I use a gold plated metal filter instead of paper in my coffee maker. I use coffee maker with bulk tea (not bagged). And I am switching to tea more and more.

  22. Harry Lenas Says:

    Very interesting discussion.
    I wish to let you know about this ECOFFEE
    They are developing a sustainable chain of coffee shops

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  24. GreenGirl Says:

    I use a reusable cloth filter, which research indicate does help eliminate filter cafestol and kahweol.
    “The best evidence is for paper filters, but an interesting study published in 2011 showed that filtering methods used in Singapore (the so-called sock method, which uses a cotton-nylon cloth) and India (metal mesh) were also effective at trapping cafestol.” (source

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