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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.

Zero waste coffee - reinventing your morning routine

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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 coffee 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)
  • Buy our top pick on Amazon:
Sale
Mueller French Press Double Insulated 304 Stainless Steel Coffee Maker 4 Level Filtration System, No Coffee Grounds, Rust-Free, Dishwasher Safe
  • If you really care about your coffee – We tested enough mechanisms and filters to make your head spin to tweak and uniquely design our press with a triple layered filter structure to stop the sediment, but let the yummy coffee oils through for a full-bodied delicious brew that will make you a very happy camper. And to share the java love, we give you a bonus matching travel canister that holds enough beans or grounds for two full batches.
  • More thicker, More heavier, Build to last – Our huge capacity professional grade 304 18/10 double-layered stainless-steel baby will keep your coffee hot for 60 minutes longer than thinner steel and glass models. And it’s drop proof, rust proof, and probably bulletproof (be nice).
  • Multiple Uses - Besides using the french press as a coffee maker, it is also handy appliance to make tea, mct oil coffee, hot chocolate, cold brew, frothed milk, almond milk, cashew milk, fruit infusions, and plant and herbal drinks as it seals in their flavors and aromas
  • Perfect for any occasion - For house warmings, weddings, birthdays, holidays and all coffee/tea lovers & healthy foodies! Two bonus stainless steel screens and the matching travel container are included with every purchase while quantities last.
  • European Engineered - Our total satisfaction promise covers all our products. So choose Mueller with confidence and look forward to a lifetime of java pleasure.

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.

Moka pots can be used to make zero waste coffee

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)
  • Buy or top pick on Amazon:
Sale
GROSCHE Milano Stovetop Espresso Maker Moka Pot 9 espresso Cup- 15.2 oz, White - Cuban Coffee Maker Stove top coffee maker Moka Italian espresso greca coffee maker brewer percolator
  • ⭐ [Moka Espresso Coffee] 9 cup Stovetop espresso maker & manual coffee percolator machine. Available in 3 cups, 6 cups, 9 cup espresso sizes. Stove top percolator coffee pot to make home espresso like a barista. Its easier to use than electric espresso coffee machines and makes a rich cup of Expresso moka coffee. 9 cup expresso size in Food grade anodized aluminium.
  • ⭐ [Easy to use Moka Espresso coffee Maker & Cuban Coffee maker] will work on all gas and electric stove top and propane camping stoves as well. It will make moka coffee on glass top induction stoves but will heat very slowly since its not magnetic. It is a type of easy to use stovetop espresso maker, coffee perculator, or expresso coffee maker stovetop. Its also called a Moka pot, Moka coffe maker, or Cafetera Cubana.
  • ⭐ [Highest quality stove top espresso at home] You can easily make a moka coffee, also called a low pressure stovetop espresso at home with the Milano Moka Stovetop Espresso maker. Add milk from a milk steamer or milk frother to make lattes or cappuccino at home with ease with this coffee percolator stovetop at home. With premium silicone moka pot gasket. Uses standard 9 cup stovetop espresso maker gasket size.
  • ⭐ [Made in Italy Safety Valve for maximum safety] We studied all brands of moka expresso stovetop espresso makers and improved on them in many ways. We gave the Milano Stovetop Espresso maker a larger soft touch handle with a burn guard for your finger, addressing a common complaint of hot handles and burnt fingers! Also, the Italian Safety Valve in this stove top espresso coffee maker keeps you safe from high pressure buildup.
  • ⭐ [Super espresso cafeteras with style - Also use as a Greek Greca coffee maker] With a silicone gasket, and colors and styles to boot, the Milano coffee pot is the home espresso machine coffee maker and moka pot every one should have. Try it with your favorite coffee and double walled glass espresso cups. This is the coffee cup every coffee lover should enjoy.

POUR OVER / CHEMEX

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

  • Buy ceramic pour over at Life Without Plastic (US & CAN)
  • Buy handmade coffee dripper at Etsy (worldwide)
  • Buy our top pick from Amazon:
Chemex Pour-Over Glass Coffeemaker - Classic Series - 8-Cup - Exclusive Packaging
  • All CHEMEX Coffeemakers are measured using 5 oz. as 1 cup
  • All CHEMEX Coffeemakers are made of the highest quality, non-porous Borosilicate glass which will not absorb odors or chemical residues
  • The patented CHEMEX pour-over design allows coffee to be covered and refrigerated for reheating without losing flavor
  • CHEMEX - simple, easy to use with timeless, elegant design
  • Use CHEMEX Bonded Filters FP-1, FC-100, FS-100, FSU-100

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?

  • Buy stainless steel filter from Life Without Plastic (US & CAN)
  • Buy filter from Etsy (Worldwide)
  • Buy our top pick from Amazon:
Sale
Cafellissimo Pour Over Coffee Dripper - Manual Reusable Stainless Steel Cone Filter, 1-2 Cup Paperless Single Drip Brew Coffee Strainer with Double Mesh Liner
  • Gourmet flavor made easy - Hand brew barista-quality coffee with the Cafellissimo pour-over coffee dripper. A stand-alone coffee maker that gives you the power of a professional barista for every cup.
  • Double mesh design – The Cafellissimo coffee filter is made with a dual coffee filter brewing design for expert immersion and extraction Like a pro. The high-quality stainless steel gives an even pour every time.
  • Convenience and quality – Anywhere you go, the power of a professional barista is in your hands. The Cafellissimo Coffee Cone is small enough to take everywhere, so you always have that perfect cup.
  • Easy to clean and use- The Cafellissimo single coffee pour-over rinses quickly and is dishwasher safe. No more paper filters with our coffee strainer made from durable stainless steel.
  • Money back guarantee - Cafellissimo is committed to providing a superior pour-over coffee drinking experience. If you aren't satisfied, contact us within (30) days and we'll issue you a full refund.

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)
  • Buy our top pick on Amazon:
Cuisinart CHW-14 Coffee Plus 10-Cup Thermal Programmable Coffeemaker and Hot Water System, Black
  • Fully automatic with 24-hour programmability, self-clean, 1-4 cup setting, ready tone on/off and auto-shutoff
  • Brew pause feature
  • Provides hot water on demand for tea, soup, hot cocoa and more.UC Cubic Feet: 1.48
  • 56-Ounce water reservoir
  • Convenient water ready and add water indicators

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)
  • Buy Coffee Grinder for coffee pods on Amazon
  • Buy K-Cup Coffee maker on Amazon:
Sale
Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker, Single Serve K-Cup Pod Coffee Brewer, 6 to 12 Oz. Brew Sizes, Matte Black
  • FITS ANYWHERE: Less than 5 inches wide, perfect for small spaces
  • YOUR PERFECT AMOUNT: Brew any cup size between 6-12oz with Keurig K-Cup pods
  • ONE CUP RESERVOIR: Just add fresh water for each brew
  • FAST & FRESH BREWED: Coffee made in minutes
  • CORD STORAGE: For easy transport and tidy countertops

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)
  • Buy our top pick on Amazon (great for camping!):
Sale
COLETTI Bozeman Camping Coffee Pot – Coffee Percolator – Percolator Coffee Pot for Campfire or Stove Top Coffee Making – 9 CUP
  • NO ALUMINUM OR PLASTIC - Hardwood handle, 18/8 Stainless Steel with a tempered glass top and medical grade filters.
  • ENGINEERED FOR THE OUTDOORS - You can take camping coffee makers anywhere. Period.
  • EASIEST WAY TO MAKE CAMP COFFEE - A camp coffee pot is simple, efficient, & classic.
  • ROBUST & HOT - Tired of weak and warm? When you want something strong, and it’s too early for beer, brew with a Bozeman.
  • LIFETIME REPLACEMENT GUARANTEE - Top materials & workmanship enable a superb promise. Shop with confidence.

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.  

We’ve personally owned our own De’Longhi espresso machine (similar to this one) for over 10 years now! It’s a bit more of an investment up front, but we’re still getting great coffee every day with the push of a button.

Where to buy an espresso machine?

  • Buy used Espresso machines on Etsy (worldwide)
  • Buy our top pick on Amazon:
De’Longhi Dinamica ECAM35025SB TrueBrew Over Ice™ Fully Automatic Coffee and Espresso Machine, with Premium Adjustable Frother
  • The first and only fully automatic coffee machine with De’Longhi TrueBrew Over Ice Coffee technology.
  • The True Brew Process Delivers Smooth, Full-Bodied Iced Coffee: Dinamica with De’Longhi TrueBrew Over Ice feature is the first and only Fully Automatic Coffee and Espresso Machine with iced coffee recipe. By brewing at a lower temperature, pre-infusing & infusing the coffee and offering the ability to customize to extra strong, De’Longhi TrueBrew Over Ice brews smooth, full-bodied coffee over ice that is never watered down.
  • Heat-up time in less than 40 seconds: With Italian 15 bar high performance pump and a brew unit that takes only 40 seconds to heat up, you can have coffee shop quality coffee beverages with the push of a button.
  • Brew The Freshest Coffee: With bean to cup brewing system and a breakthrough built-in steel burr grinder, you can expect the freshest cup of coffee, every time, unlike competitor machines, Dinamica does not leave grounds in the brew unit.
  • The Simplest Machine To Clean: With a removable brew unit and dishwasher-safe drip tray, this machine takes half the time and cost to clean compared vs. competitor models and without the use of chemicals.

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 go-to is the KeepCup, but options abound – you can read about our other favorites here: Best Eco-Friendly Coffee Cups

Many cafes also sell their own branded cups (just don’t get caught buying more than you need).

KeepCup 16oz Reusable Coffee Cup. Toughened Glass Cup & Natural Cork Band. 16-Ounce/Large, Almond
  • Keep Cup Brew - Cork Edition crafted from blown tempered glass and cork
  • A premium drinking experience best suited to a coffee ritual
  • Beautiful to hold, handle with care

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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