Things are looking pretty dire when it comes to the state of the planet. The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report is enough to send most people into a spiral of existential dread. There is no denying that climate change is happening now. We must all do our bit to save the planet - coffee lovers included!
There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes before your barista can pop the lid on your flat white and call out your name. Coffee beans must first be grown, roasted, shipped and packaged. But for today, let's just discuss one of the most talked about issues when it comes to coffee and climate change. Takeaway Coffee Cups. ‘But takeaway coffee cups are made out of paper!’ you say. ‘Why can’t we just recycle them?’ you ask.
Why takeaway coffee cups kinda suck
Paper coffee cups are lined with a thin film of plastic. This makes takeaway coffee cups incredibly difficult to recycle. According to the Environmental Protection Agency there are approximately 1 billion takeaway coffee cups sent to landfill every year in Australia alone. 1 billion. Let that sink in. These will remain in landfill for a thousand years.
Perhaps you have seen compostable and/or biodegradable coffee cups emerging. You’re probably thinking ‘Great! Problem solved!’ Well unfortunately, not exactly. Compostable and biodegradable cups can only be composted in industrial composting facilities and must be disposed of separately to non-compostable products. This means that the majority of such items are unfortunately also sent straight to landfill. And what’s worse, the energy required to make these products is greater than that of a regular single use coffee cup.
So it seems simple right? Just use a reusable cup yeah? Unfortunately this is also not as simple as it sounds… I know what you’re thinking! ‘The title said there were ‘simple swaps’ I could make - this doesn’t seem very simple at all!!!’ Bear with me!
The source of the confusion
When it comes to determining the environmental impact of any product, coffee cups included, the entire lifecycle of the product must be taken into account. This means what the product is made from, how it's made, how it's used, and how it's disposed of. So this is where things get complicated.
Single-use cups naturally require fewer resources and less energy to produce than reusable cups. The energy required to wash a reusable cup must also be taken into account. Thankfully, after a certain number of uses, a reusable cup will equate to the energy consumption of a single use cup. The number of uses before this occurs differs depending on the material of the cup and how it's washed - whether it’s rinsed in cold water or washed in hot, soapy water, whether it's washed by hand or in the dishwasher. Usually this number is somewhere between 6-127 uses. So if you use your reusable cup once a day for four months, it's almost a guarantee that you’ve surpassed this point and your reusable cup was well worth it! The graph below might help:
What you can do as a climate conscious coffee ‘Feind
The simplest, and most effective thing you can do to save the planet when buying a coffee out is to dine in. Ceramic cups generally require hundreds of uses before their impact is smaller than a single-use cup, but because these cups are used multiple times daily it doesn’t take long for dine in cups and mugs to surpass this many uses.
Alternatively, these days we are spoiled with choice when it comes to high-grade specialty retail coffee beans and it is easier than ever to make a tasty coffee in the comfort of your own home. So why not cut the trip to the coffee shop out all together - saving the fossil fuels that would have been expended on your drive to the coffee shop and back and removing the need for a takeaway cup all together! You can find beans to your liking online at the ‘Feind Coffee Marketplace. Purchasing beans online also cuts out a lot of the driving because coffee is delivered straight from the roastery to your door.
The next best thing you can do, if you’re more of an on-the-go coffee drinker, is to bring a reusable cup. One innovative solution to this problem is the HuskeeCup. Huskee was founded by Saxon Wright who also happens to be one of the founders of Pablo & Rustys Coffee Roasters. If you’re keen to try their beans at home (in a reusable cup of course ;) ) you can find them on the ‘Feind Coffee Marketplace. What makes HuskeeCup special is that they make their cups from the coffee bean husk. This means that not only are these cups removing the need to use a single-use cup, they are also reducing waste in the roasting process by repurposing what would usually go straight to landfill. And it gets better! Huskee have really thought of everything when it comes to sustainability - introducing the HuskeeLoop program and the HuskeeSwap program. Or, for an even more resourceful byo cup, simply use a repurposed condiment/sauce jar with a few rubber bands around the middle for heat protection!
Covid-19 has made things slightly more difficult when it comes to saving the planet, with many cafes refusing byo cups for infection control and being unable to offer dine in services. If your local cafe is still accepting reusable cups, ensure your cup is properly washed. Alternatively, look for cafes using cup swap schemes like HuskeeSwap or simply ask for no lid. Find out more info here.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the climate crisis but its important to remain optimistic and remember that if we can make positive changes, we should! So next time you’re ready to enjoy a coffee, be conscious of the effect you could have on the planet and simply opt for a vessel with a lower impact.
For more info I strongly recommend watching the ABC Docuseries ‘War on Waste’
And check out these other great sustainability initiatives within the coffee industry:
Author: Claudia M