Whether we’re gearing up for a day at the home office or working from HQ, most of us here at tentree start our day off with a cup of coffee (and continue to fuel ourselves throughout the day with a few more cups). On the marketing team, the meeting didn’t happen if there wasn’t at least one iced coffee consumed. Given our caffeine-fiending ways, we set out to find the most eco-friendly way to make a cup of coffee. In our investigation, we looked at a few things: waste, compostability, and energy use. Here’s what we found.
No matter how you make your coffee, there is always going to be a waste byproduct. If you make coffee in a pod coffee maker, there’s plastic and coffee grounds. If you use a drip coffee maker, a pour-over, an AeroPress, or something similar, there’s a filter, usually paper or bamboo, and coffee grounds.
In terms of the most wasteful, the pod coffee maker was the biggest culprit with its single-use plastic. Although some compostable options are available now, not all facilities accept them or have the ability to break them down properly. We found the least wasteful option was the French press, which requires no filter. Your only waste product with this method of brewing your bean juice is the coffee grounds themselves.
Winner: French press
Whatever method you’re using, it’s important to note that coffee grounds are compostable, which is a great, eco-friendly way to dispose of your old grounds. But what about those coffee filters?
A pod coffee maker is automatically out of the running for this category with its plastic waste byproduct. Sorry, our little pod-filled friend.
Coffee filters can be composted, but we recommend only composting brown filters. White coffee filters are sometimes treated with bleach and other synthetic chemicals, which could harm the overall health of your compost heap. To make things easy, you can take all the guesswork out by skipping the filters entirely when you go with the winner of this round — the French press takes it again.
Winner: French press.
All coffee-making methods use some amount of electricity to heat up the water (although cold brew is an option). For this round, we did a little research on which option uses the most electricity. The results are admittedly kind of underwhelming, but here’s what we found.
- An electric kettle used to heat water for a pot of coffee made with a French press or pour-over method, on average, uses around 1,600 watts of electricity.
- A drip coffee maker uses approximately the same amount of energy as the electric kettle – between 1,200 and 1,700 watts.
- A pod coffee maker will use approximately 1,500 watts of electricity.
In this calculation, we also took idle energy use into consideration. Once your coffee has been brewed, it takes more electricity to keep it hot. This one’s a little tricky to measure, but assuming that the average coffee pot remains on for a while after the coffee is made, the electric kettle may be the most energy-efficient option.
Winner: Electric kettle and by proximity, French press and pour-over.
When you break it all down, it appears that the French press is the most eco-friendly way to brew your next cup. There are no filters involved, the grounds are completely compostable, and the electric kettle (likely) uses less energy than a drip coffee pot or a pod-style coffee maker.
If you’re currently using a regular coffee pot, we aren’t suggesting that you junk it in favor of a French press. But when the time does come to let it go, make sure you donate it to a charity or second-hand shop so it can be resold and reused.
Before we sign off, here are a couple of other tips to help you keep your next cup as sustainable as it is energizing.
Look for labels with Fairtrade/organic certifications.
Fairtrade ensures that the farmers and workers in the supply chain are being paid and treated fairly.
Try and remember your reusable mug.
Although Covid has currently put this on hold, if you’re grabbing a coffee on the go, try and skip the single-use cups for a more sustainable alternative.