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Your Complete Guide to Zero Waste Coffee

Your Complete Guide to Zero Waste Coffee

If you’re like 79% of Americans, your morning routine starts with brewing a cup of coffee at home. And whether you realize it or not, your cup probably comes with its fair share of negative environmental impacts. Forests are cleared to make room for coffee production, beans are often sold in plastic packaging, and most cups are brewed using some sort of single-use product.

While these impacts might seem daunting, you can adapt your morning brewing routine to make zero waste coffee with just a few changes.

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Ways to Brew Your Morning Coffee Zero Waste

There are several ways to brew a zero waste coffee cup! Let’s check out some of the more popular methods below.

For all of these methods, I’ve included informational links to recommended products, but if you can, it’s better to buy the equipment second-hand, from a local artisan, or to support a BIPOC owned businesses.


French Press

Brewing in a french press is one of the most straightforward ways to brew your zero waste coffee. Simply add grounds and boiling water to your press, wait four minutes, and then slowly press down on the plunger to filter.  Using a 1:12 coffee-to-water ratio is pretty standard, but you can adjust based on how strong you like your morning brew.

Where to buy a French Press?

  • Buy TERRA Sustainable French Press from Grosche (USA & Canada)
  • Buy French Press direct from Bodem (worldwide)

Moka Pot

If you like a more concentrated, espresso-like cup of coffee, a moka pot may be the right choice for you. Moka pots are stovetop coffee makers that are widely used in Italy. They’re made with stainless steel and require nothing but water and coffee grounds to brew.

To use, fill the bottom chamber with heated water, add the filter basket, fill the basket with coffee grounds, and transfer the pot to the stovetop.  Turn your stove to medium heat and leave the lid of the brewer open. After a few minutes, a deep-brown stream of coffee will begin puttering out the top.

You know your cup is done once the stream turns to a more light-brown or yellow color. You can enjoy your moka brew black or in a latte.

Where to buy a Moka Pot?

  • Buy Moka Pot from Illy Caffe (Worldwide excl AUS/NZ)
  • Buy a vintage Moka Pot from Etsy (Worldwide)

Pour Over

Pour over is a great way to brew a single cup of drip coffee. For a zero waste brew, use a reusable coffee filter made of cotton with a ceramic drip cone or glass Chemex.

Simply put the grounds in the filter, “bloom” the grounds by covering them with boiling water for 45 seconds, and then slowly pour the remaining water over your grounds.

A typical ratio for pour over is 1:17 grounds-to-water, but again, you can adjust this based on preference.

Where to buy a Pour Over & cotton filter

Stainless Steel Filters

Like reusable cotton filters, these zero waste coffee filter options can be used as replacements to single-use paper filters. However, they can also be used on their own. Simply place the stainless steel filter over a mug, add grounds, and brew like you would any other drip cup – no ceramic cone or Chemex needed.

Where to buy a stainless steel filter?

Electric Auto-Drip Coffee Maker

These appliances are a staple in many households, being one of the easiest ways to get your morning brew. They are often used with single-use paper filters, but can be made more sustainable with the use of a zero waste coffee filter, like these.

However, these machines are often cheaply made with plastic and e-waste components, so unless you already have one or buy one second-hand, your most sustainable option may be to opt for a different brewing method – unless you’re willing to invest in one made durably with mostly glass and metal parts.

Where to buy electric drip coffee makers?

  • Buy Second Hand electric coffee maker on Etsy (Worldwide)

K-cup Brewers

In the last decade, k-cup machines have become one of the most popular ways to brew coffee. Keurig alone sold 10 billion k-cup pods in 2018. But, they come with a lot of waste. While the pods are recyclable if you separate the plastic, aluminum, and paper components, most consumers just throw them out, leading to several billion k-cup pods making their way into landfills annually.

To curb this waste, invest in a reusable k-cup pod that you fill with loose grounds. Simply insert it where you would a k-cup and use the machine as normal. However, like auto-drip machines, they are often cheaply made with plastic and e-waste components, so opt for other brewing methods if you can.

Where to buy a k-cup machine and reusable pods?

  • Buy Reusable k-cup pods on Etsy (worldwide)

Percolators

Percolators are more of an old-fashioned brewing appliance, but are still loved by many coffee drinkers around the world. They come in electric, stovetop, and even campfire varieties, but all brew in similar ways.

Add water into the bottom chamber, put it over your heat source, wait for it to boil, and then add coarsely-ground coffee- between a teaspoon and a tablespoon per cup of water, depending on desired strength. After adding the coffee, reduce heat, and let it brew for around seven minutes before removing it from heat. You can play around with  

Where to buy percolators?

  • Buy secondhand on Etsy (worldwide)

Espresso Machine

Espresso machines are on the pricier end of brewing methods, but if you love a rich shot of espresso, they may be worth the investment. They are also generally low in waste as you just have to add grounds to the machine, no filters or other single-use products required.

However, like other electric brewing machines, when they break, you end up with e-waste components, so investing in a quality machine is important from a sustainability point of view.  

Where to buy an espresso machine?

  • Buy used Espresso machines on Etsy (worldwide)

Cold Brew

If you have nothing but a jar and some coffee grounds, you can make cold brew at home. Just add coarsely ground coffee and water into a jar, let it brew at room temperature for 24 hours, and then strain it through a coffee sock, reusable pour over filter, or cheese cloth.

Alternatively, you can put the grounds directly into a coffee sock, tie it, place it into a jar with water and brew for 24 hours. Coffee to water ratios for cold brew vary widely based on preference, but 1:8 can be a good starting point.


Compost your grounds

No matter what method you choose, composting your grounds after brewing is one of the best things you can do to up the sustainability of your cup.

Whether you have your compost picked up, you donate it to a local community garden, or you have a bin in your backyard, don’t forget to throw in your coffee grounds. Otherwise, they’ll contribute to landfill-related methane and carbon emissions.


How to Buy Zero Waste Coffee

Making zero waste coffee starts at the source. From how the coffee beans are grown, to how it’s packaged, there are a few things to consider.

Bulk Bin

If you’re accustomed to buying dry goods and spices from bulk bins, buying zero waste coffee beans in bulk won’t be anything new. Bring a jar or cloth bag to the grocery store (preferably your local co-op), tare it, fill it with beans, and then write down the PLU #- like you would for any other bulk item. 

A lot of stores also have coffee grinders available so you can grind your coffee before purchasing, which will be important if you don’t have a grinder at home.

Local Café

Supporting local businesses is an important part of sustainability, so if you only live near chain grocery stores, your most sustainable coffee buying option may be to buy coffee beans from your local café. Not all storefronts offer this, but if they roast their own coffee in house, chances are you they offer whole beans.

A lot of cafés might not offer these beans package free, but if their coffee is grown sustainably and they’re a local business, the price of a little extra packaging may be worth it.

Shade Grown and Fair Trade

Cutting down on waste is important, but its also important to look at other impacts. Coffee is notoriously grown in unsustainable conditions by workers who make less than a living wage, so buying beans that cut down on those impacts and are grown in fair conditions is just as important (if not more) than buying coffee free from plastic.

Look for shade-grown, fair trade and rainforest alliance varieties, and research the practices of the company you’re buying your beans from before making a purchase. If they are not transparent about their growing practices and labor conditions, you may want to look for a different business to support.


Zero Waste Coffee on the Go

Don’t have time to brew your own coffee every day? It’s definitely the most sustainable option, but everyone is allowed a treat once in a while. Here are some things to keep in mind when buying coffee out.

Support Small & Local

As with buying your beans, it’s always better to support the little guy over the big chain stores, and it’s often easier to find their eco credentials too. Things to look for include where they source their coffee from, whether they roast it themselves, and if they’re actively working towards reducing waste in-house.

Take Your Own Cup

Did you know less than 1% of the paper cups that are produced globally are recycled? When you consider that over 50 Billion coffee cups are used each year in the USA alone, that’s a sobering statistic. The only way to ensure you’re not contributing to this waste is to take your own refillable cup with you – it’s an essential item in any zero waste to-go kit.

My personal favourite is the KeepCup, but options abound, and many cafes also sell their own branded cups (just don’t get caught buying more than you need).


Adapting your morning brewing routine to be zero waste can be achieved with just a few changes. And if none of these brewing methods are your speed, you can always go to your local café, reusable coffee cup in hand, and get a zero waste morning fix that way.

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