How to Make Your Coffee More Eco-Friendly

We love our coffee, but if you’re here reading this you’ve probably realized the huge negative impacts the conventional coffee industry can have on the environment and local coffee-producing communities. If you’re new to this concept, or just want to brush up on some hard-to-swallow facts about our beloved brew, check out our report on why sustainable and ethically sourced coffee is so important.

But how exactly does an individual improve their coffee habits to be more eco-friendly? The answer depends on several aspects of how you consume your coffee, such as:

  • What type of coffee are you buying?
  • Do you drink coffee at home or go out to a cafe?
  • Do you add milk, and if so, what type?
  • What method do you use to brew coffee at home?

The good news is there is a raft of ways the average person can massively improve the environmental and social impact of their coffee consumption. We’re giving you a complete rundown on a plethora of ways you can “green up” your coffee habits both at home and when you’re out and about.

7 tips to make your coffee more eco-friendly

  • Choose eco-friendly coffee products
  • Buy local
  • Minimize packaging or seek sustainable options
  • Ditch single use coffee pods
  • Choose eco-friendly milk alternatives
  • Optimize your brewing methods at home
  • Make eco-friendly choices when out and about
Preparing fresh coffee in moka pot on electric stove

Choose eco-friendly coffee products

No matter where, or how you drink your coffee, one of the biggest personal impacts we can have is in the coffee we choose to drink. 

By supporting brands that make a conscious effort to reduce the negative consequences commonly associated with coffee production, you can significantly reduce the impacts on a range of environmental, ethical, and social issues.  

Whether it’s stopping deforestation, looking after the farmers who grow and harvest coffee, or protecting native ecosystems, there are coffee suppliers doing their best to be more eco-friendly. 

Unfortunately, It’s not always as straightforward as we think it should be when choosing coffee that cares. The truth is the coffee supply chain is incredibly complex and convoluted.

One of the simplest ways to identify coffee that meets your moral and ethical guidelines is to look for coffee brands that have gained specific eco-friendly certifications. 

These coffee products have gained certification through meeting and maintaining a set of criteria based on a range of issues including environmental protection, human and workers’ rights, and fair and equitable trade practices. 

Common and reliable coffee certifications include Bird Friendly, USDA Organic, Fair Trade, and Rainforest Alliance. To make informed choices that align with your values check out our rundown on coffee certifications and their effectiveness.

Buy Local

Buying locally has a wide array of benefits for both the environment and the community. Depending on where you live this may be difficult or unrealistic. If you have the option, buying your coffee locally is a great way to improve the sustainability of your coffee and support eco-conscious businesses.

The most obvious benefit is reduced transport emissions. There is no getting around the fact that coffee must initially be transported from the farms in the tropical areas of the world, to wherever you are – A huge source of coffee’s carbon footprint.

By buying from local roasters you’re often cutting out a significant amount of extra transportation to and from large processing, roasting, and distribution centers. This reduction means a smaller carbon footprint, which is a great thing for the environment and climate change.

Many local roasters also take part in direct trade coffee. By cutting out the need for importing/exporting companies, the coffee farmer often gets a much larger cut of the revenue. This extra profit can help the financial outlook of many smaller producers.

Local roasters can also provide expert advice about the coffee options in your local area and often carry a wide range of beans with different certifications to meet your needs. You’ll often be getting fresher coffee and the improved taste that comes with that. 

Not to mention you’ll be supporting a local business, generating jobs, and keeping your hard-earned cash out of the hands of the coffee corporations.

Check out our curated list of eco-friendly local coffee roasters and find a supplier near you

Minimize Packaging or Seek Sustainable Options

The negative effects of single-use packaging are becoming increasingly understood as the world begins to acknowledge its garbage problem. It’s important that we look for sustainable packaging options both when buying beans for home and when buying takeout coffee while out and about. 

The best option is to avoid packaging altogether. If shopping from a local roaster or wholesaler is possible, you may be able to use a reusable bag or container. If you’re at a cafe, either drink your coffee in-house or purchase a keep cup or travel mug for coffee on the go. 

Removing the need for single-use packaging significantly reduces the natural resources and energy footprint of your coffee and once it becomes a habit, is one of the easiest ways you can make your coffee more sustainable.

Sustainable packaging

When avoiding packaging isn’t possible, supporting products with recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable components will help to limit the environmental impacts of the creation and disposal of plastic. 

Popular options include corrugated cardboard or paper, recycled paper, bioplastics, and corn starch packaging just to name a few. 

It’s worth noting that no matter how sustainable the packaging is – if it is only used once, it has still consumed energy, water, and natural materials to be made, all of which come at a cost to the environment.


One last option is to recycle the coffee packaging (single-use cups can not be recycled). Soft plastic packaging is one of the more difficult and labor-intensive products to recycle, but thanks to industry improvements it is becoming more feasible. 

TerraCycle is a great option that offers drop-off points in several countries around the globe, including the USA, Australia, the UK, and Europe. 
It’s important to note that recycling is a highly energy-intensive process that also uses significant amounts of water. When it comes to packaging, do like Captain Planet and Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – in that order.

Ditch Single-Use Coffee Pods

Since the 1990s, the use of single-use coffee pods has exploded thanks to their convenience, range of different roasts and flavors, and the multi-million dollar marketing budgets of Nespresso.

This convenience comes at a huge cost as coffee pods are manufactured in the billions each year, introducing tonnes of aluminum and plastic packaging into landfills. It’s estimated these pods could take up to 500 years to fully decompose.

Reusable coffee pods

The best option for coffee lovers who want the convenience of a pod without the environmental impact is a reusable one. Reusable coffee pods are made from stainless steel and can be washed and reused infinitely, massively reducing the waste associated with your coffee. 

With designs to suit most brands of pod machines available, purchasing a reusable coffee pod is a great investment for conscious coffee lovers.

There are many side benefits to switching to reusable coffee pods beyond the environmental impact too. You will save tons of money (pods, particularly Nespresso pods are expensive), you can choose a coffee to suit your exact tastes, and support your local roasters.

Biodegradable and compostable coffee pods

A secondary sustainable solution is biodegradable or compostable coffee pods. These pods are either made from biodegradable plastics or in the case of compostable pods biomass (plant-based) resins.

Biodegradable and compostable coffee pods offer the same pod experience you’re used to while significantly reducing the environmental impact. Despite this, it’s important to remember they are still single-use packaging, requiring natural resources and energy to produce.

Recycling coffee pods

Coffee pods are generally made from aluminum (which can be recycled indefinitely) and plastic. However, pods can be difficult to completely recycle as they require specialized systems due to their size and mix of organic and non-organic materials. Just because pods claim to be recyclable, doesn’t mean your local infrastructure has the capability to deal with them.

Nespresso has a pod recycling program and claims to have 122 287 collection points around the world. This requires you to either drop your spent pods off at a Nespresso store or collection point, or post them in a special bag, adding further transport emissions into the total carbon footprint on top of the intensive energy and water requirements of the recycling process.

Nespresso says its global recycling rate is 30%, but some experts have suggested that as little as 5% of Nespresso pods are recycled, meaning a whopping 95% of single-use pods end up in landfills or the natural environment.

Whether successfully recycled or not, the single-use coffee pod is an oversized contributor to the world’s garbage problems. Making a positive change by switching to reusable, biodegradable, or compostable pods is an easy, convenient, and cost-effective way to significantly improve the environmental impacts of your coffee.

Choose Eco-Friendly Milk Alternatives

Unless you drink solely espresso or black coffee, chances are you’re adding some kind of milk or creamer to your daily brew. The addition of milk, or milk alternatives is an under-the-radar amplifier of the total environmental impact a single cup of coffee might have.  

While all kinds of milk will inevitably have an impact on the environment, dairy milk is by far the worst offender on all accounts, with the industry averaging 1.3% of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions and an estimated use of 130 liters of water per cow, per day.

By switching from dairy to a milk alternative, the footprint you leave with each cup of coffee is going to reduce drastically. For more detailed information on the best milk alternatives check out our comprehensive guide (coming soon).

Choosing a milk alternative

There is a huge range of milk alternatives available to satisfy growing consumer demand, though not every milk is suitable for mixing with coffee. More often than not it will come down to personal preference for flavor, creaminess, and mouthfeel when deciding which milk alternative suits you best.

The three most common milk alternatives for coffee are almond, soy, and oat milks. While there are several other potential choices out there including rice, coconut, hemp, hazelnut, pea, and other animal milks in the current market, almond, soy, and oat have a good flavor and can be found in most cafes and supermarkets.

While taste is paramount, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t dig into the various environmental impacts of milk alternatives to help you make informed decisions. Personally, we’re big fans of oat milk because it tastes great, is highly nutritious, and has an acceptable environmental impact.

Environmental impact of milk alternatives

Soy, oat, and almond milks have around 0.175 to 0.21kg C02 emissions, per 200ml of milk produced. This may sound like a lot, but dairy milk comes in at over 3x that. The difference between dairy milk and its alternatives is even more significant when looking at land use. Dairy farming is estimated to require as much as 9 times more land than crops for milk alternatives and some sources put this figure even higher.

Water consumption is where there is a clear second place in the “who can use the most water race” and that honor goes to almond milk. Though dairy milk is still considerably worse needing 628L of water per liter of milk, almond milk still requires a staggering 371 liters of water to produce just 1 (one) liter of milk. 

For comparison, oat milk requires approximately 48 liters of water to produce 1 liter of milk, and soy just 28 liters.

Oat and soy milk are overall the winners when it comes to the environmental impact of widely available milk alternatives. Almond milk is very popular in coffee due to its sweet taste but suffers when it comes to water consumption. Still, all 3 blow dairy milk out of the water in all aspects and you can rest assured you’re having a positive impact by choosing any plant-based milk alternative.

Optimize Your Brewing Methods at Home

Next to buying eco-certified coffee beans, one of the biggest steps you can take to reduce the footprint of your coffee habits is to optimize how you brew your coffee at home. In your own home, you have complete control over how your coffee is brewed and consumed, which means you can do as little or as much as you like in the pursuit of eco-friendly coffee. 

How you make and consume your coffee at home will determine how the water is heated and the energy consumption that is used, how much waste is produced, and the impact of additives such as milk.

By choosing low energy, low waste brewing methods and getting into habits that boost your sustainability credentials, you can drastically reduce the environmental impact of your coffee at home.

Stay away from single-use coffee machines

Single-use coffee machines or “pod” machines (mentioned above) are massively popular for their convenience. The negative impact of these coffee machines is beyond compare when it comes to landfill, carbon footprint, and resource use.

There are plenty of alternative machines and mechanisms that will make similar if not better-tasting coffee, for only a fraction more effort but with a hugely reduced environmental impact – especially when paired with our other advice above.

A great alternative to single-use coffee machines is the Moka pot. While this won’t technically create espresso coffee, it is relatively simple and convenient to use and can be quite cheap to buy(depending on the brand and model) beginning at around $30 USD.

Alternatively, a french press or a pour-over style of brewing coffee can be a solid substitute when looking to get away from the pods. If you’re really keen on that cafe-style flavor, you can get serious and invest in a kitchen espresso machine.

Compost single paper filters

While paper filters are compostable, many people throw the filters, along with coffee grounds in the garbage, creating another potential wasteful component of the coffee brewing process.

When it comes to coffee paper filters, they are almost always entirely compostable. However, some are treated with chemicals, such as bleach. To keep compost truly organic, unbleached filters are the best option.

Fertilize your garden with coffee grounds

Using coffee grounds as fertilizer in your garden can have several positive benefits, depending on the type of plants you’re growing. 

Coffee grounds provide the soil with nitrogen, a common component in fertilizer that plants need to grow. Studies recommend that you should compost spent coffee grounds before putting them onto your garden. In general, coffee beans help the soil retain water, suppress weeds, and help keep pests away.

Keep in mind that typically only plants that enjoy acidic conditions will thrive with the addition of coffee grounds to the soil. Blueberry, roses, lilies, cabbage, and hydrangeas are among the species that fall into this category, while alfalfa and tomatoes won’t appreciate it so much.

Use reusable items whenever possible

Once again, using reusable items rather than single-use is one way to significantly reduce your environmental footprint. It’s easy to use a reusable cup when having coffee at home, but filters, pods, and packaging are great ways to further reduce the impact of each cup.

Only boil the water you need to use

Boiling water uses a significant amount of power. Being conscious of the amount of water that is boiled can add up to significant power savings. For example, for a french press that only holds 500ml of water, boiling 1 liter of water results in twice the energy used than is really needed. 

Keeping water at boiling point and ready for use is another common power usage for machines that allow for an instant cup. While it’s convenient, that constant temperature comes at a cost, both for your wallet and the environment.

Recycle what you can’t reduce or reuse

Not everything we use in making coffee at home is reusable or biodegradable. This will hopefully change in the near future, but for now, ensuring you’re able to recycle as much as possible helps reduce the strain on landfills.

One option is recycling services like TerraCycle or your local government or community may offer alternatives to help you recycle coffee waste and other products in general.

Being able to recycle waste begins with selecting the right products that align with the best options available in your local area. If there isn’t much information on recycling specific components of your coffee routine, contact your local government to see what options are available in your area.

Make Eco-Friendly Choices When Out and About

There’s something about a coffee that you didn’t have to make yourself that just makes it taste that much better! Throw a trained barista into the mix and you’re set for something special. 

Whether you’re relaxing, catching up on work, meeting friends, on a date, or having a low-key business meeting, the cafe in tandem with a coffee is a favorite for many. 

Or maybe the convenience of great tasting caffeine hit, taken to go on the way to work, the gym, or wherever you happen to be going is your go-to?

No matter your coffee habits when out and about, it’s important not to forget about your eco-friendly goals. It may take a little extra planning, preparation, or time, at least at first. But just like everything else on this list, it will quickly become second nature.

Support eco-friendly cafes

By far the biggest impact you can have when purchasing a sit-down or takeout coffee is to buy from cafes and coffee shops that use sustainable, ethically sourced, and eco-friendly certified beans. 

Cafes that care enough to use certified beans will likely be taking other measures to boost sustainability, reduce environmental and social impacts, and are often more invested in making their coffee to the highest standards.

Of course not everywhere will have a cafe or coffee shop that uses certified beans or takes action on other sustainability measures. In that case, all you can do is mention to the business that you’d love to see them using certified beans. 

Get your friends, family, and co-workers on the bandwagon and you might have a local eco-friendly cafe in your neighborhood at some point in the future.

Drink in house rather than take out

Wherever possible try to avoid taking coffee to go using any form of single-use cup and paraphernalia. Instead, get in the habit of sitting down and enjoying your coffee in-house. This not only cuts out waste, but will taste better, and be an all-around more relaxing and enjoyable experience.

Every cup, lid, straw, stirrer, sugar satchel, cardboard sleeve, and tray that you don’t use, means they won’t end up in landfills, and energy and resources won’t be consumed in the production to replace them.

Time is valuable, but allowing yourself a few extra minutes to take a seat and a moment to yourself to enjoy a drink can be relaxing in itself while having a positive impact on the environment.

Use a reusable cup for take-out

Sitting down to enjoy your coffee isn’t always an option but it’s not an excuse to bail on your environmental standards. A small amount of planning ahead to identify when you’re typically in search of a coffee can make it so you’ve always got a tumbler or travel mug on hand.

The use of reusable cups or “keep cups” for take-out at cafes has become increasingly popular as consumers aim to reduce their environmental impact. Some cafes even give a small discount for bringing your own mug, so it’s a win-win situation for every party involved.

If your favorite cafe turns down your reusable cup, then we suggest you find a better one. Or take the approach from above and let them know what a great idea it is!

Sustainably sourced/biodegradable cups

If for whatever reason having your coffee in-house or using a reusable coffee cup just isn’t an option (it happens to us more than we’d like to admit), choosing a shop that makes the extra effort to stock sustainably sourced and ultimately biodegradable cups is sometimes the best you can do.

It’s important to support coffee shops that aim to reduce their impact on the planet as much as possible and that helps you to do the same. By showing this support, you can slowly but surely influence the market towards more green and sustainable practices.

Every Step to More Sustainable Habits is Important!

While there certainly is much to consider when it comes to reducing the impact of your personal coffee consumption on the planet and the people who work in the industry, there are many small, straightforward, and achievable ways you can play your part.

Of course, we ultimately need industry and corporate cooperation to permanently stem the devastating effects of the conventional coffee industry. Companies pay attention to what their market wants and even subtle shifts in personal habits of choosing sustainable options can have a profound effect

You don’t need to change everything at once, small consistent steps can have a large impact over time. Even if you only implement one recommendation from this article, be it ditching pods, avoiding single-use cups, or buying sustainably and ethically sourced beans, you’ve made a huge personal contribution to a better world – and in our eyes that makes you a winner, so thank you!