I have at least one cup of coffee a day, and I am not alone. According to coffee-statistics.com
, Americans consume around 400 million cups of coffee a day, which is something like 146 billion cups per year. When you get into quantities this large, the possibility of having a negative impact on the environment becomes very real. Our massive coffee consumption is filling landfills with single use containers and causing deforestation in South America and other coffee growing regions. I realize that to suggest that we stop drinking coffee would be preaching anarchy, but there are steps we can take to reduce the impact our morning-cup-of-Joe has on the world.
The first step is to bring your own thermos. Using your own thermos instead of single use containers can substantially reduce your coffee related impact. Think of it this way, if your morning routine is to stop for coffee on your way to work you could use about five containers a week. This weekly routine can add up to around 1,825 containers a year that will all end up in a landfill. Having a reusable thermos eliminates this waste entirely, and most places will give you a discount for using a thermos rather than wasting a new cup.
The second step is to be aware of what kind of single use containers you are using to hold your morning java. It is important to avoid Styrofoam because, like diamonds, Styrofoam is forever and will never decompose. In a world where "going green" is the new marketing trend, there are plenty of coffee shops that offer compostable alternatives to Styrofoam cups made from sugar cane, corn and natural polymers. Most of these are clearly marked to alert the customer of their environmental benefits. These eco-friendly containers are generally more expensive than their landfill clogging counterparts but not by much. A sleeve of 1,000 eight-ounce Styrofoam cups will cost around $40 where 1,000 compostable eight-ounce cups will cost around $80. You can learn more about these containers at www.ecoproducts.com
The third step is to be aware of where your coffee came from and the manner in which it was grown. Starting some time around the 1970s coffee farms began to industrialize by introducing pesticides and clear cutting forest areas to expand coffee production. However, in recent years companies have begun to produce coffee that is grown in a more environmentally conscious way. The most notable of these new methods are the shade grown coffees and the organic coffees. Shade grown plantations grow coffee plants under a natural tree canopy. This preserves some of the natural habitat and allows wildlife to live symbiotically with the coffee plantation. Organic coffee plantations do not use pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers, which reduces pollution of local water tables and minimizes harm to the surrounding wildlife.
You do not have to know a lot about coffee to reduce your coffee carbon footprint (I still have no idea what a macchiato is), but just by having a general sense of where your coffee comes from and a travel mug in hand, you can start to save the world, one cup of coffee at a time.
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