Green Your Coffee – An Environmental Tip from a Latte Drinker

March 13, 2008

If you’re like me, it takes a good cup of coffee to get your morning started off right. And if you’re even more like me, you might think about the impact your coffee habit may have. By now, a lot of us coffee drinkers have heard about things like Fair Trade, organic, and shade grown coffee. Good news! Corporate and local coffee houses are offering these environmentally sound choices to us more frequently. Chances are, if coffee that’s environmentally friendly is offered, you’ll take it.

There’s another part of your coffee addiction that has a global impact. Your coffee cup. We see them everywhere but almost never give ’em a second thought. But those lattes and americanos that keep us working hard have a bitter environmental impact. In 2006, Americans added an estimated 16 billion coffee cups to our landfills! Think about it – how many cups have you thrown away this month? This week? The waste starts to add up fast, and in more places than just landfills. The entire process is incredibly resource intensive.

Here’s where it gets worse. Disposable paper cups are made almost exclusively from fresh wood from our forests. Once the lumber is transformed into paper, it’s coated with thin plastic and pressed into a cup. That plastic helps protect your hands from hot coffee – but it also condemns your cup to a landfill. Recycling can’t be done effectively on either end of a cup’s life cycle.


The real tragedy is that alternatives are easy and accessible. All of us have a reusable coffee mug stashed away in our kitchen, it’s just a matter of remembering to grab it on the way to work or school.

Now I’ll be honest. I’m one of those “latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing” types of people. But using your own reusable coffee cup has more than just an environmental appeal. Those smart enough to remember a cup are often treated to a discount at coffee houses. Considering that most reusable coffee cups have life expectancies of 5 to 10 years, those discounts can add up. As an additional bonus, bringing your own cup helps out your favorite coffee house. Disposable cups are one of the largest costs to local shops, and most places would love to cut down on their expensive overhead.

suscup.pngUsing your cup has more personal benefits as well. Reusable cups tend to keep your hot coffee hot and your cold drinks cold. If you’ve ever experienced a winter in Seattle, you know a mocha can go from hot to luke-warm in just a few minutes. Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy your drink leisurely instead of chugging it down or throwing away the last few sips?

The next time you’re getting ready to leave the house, think about drinking responsibly and bringing a reusable coffee cup. It’s quick and convenient, easy and painless. Not only will you be saving yourself money, you’ll be doing something good for the planet too.

For more in-depth information regarding sustainable coffee cups and disposable cups, please visit


5 Responses to “Green Your Coffee – An Environmental Tip from a Latte Drinker”

  1. nonsense said

    First of all, paper cups were designed for the birthday parties of 4-year-olds, not freaking adults who can actually afford to drop more than 20 cents at a lemonade stand for something that tastes less like the paper container it comes in. Independent of any of your environmental concerns.

    But Fair Trade as an “environmentally sound” choice? Dream on! Every label you encounter doesn’t mean homey goodness for the earth. Life is a lot more complicated than that. It’s as if someone could come up with “monkey &%#” certification and every chump with a green or socially conscious thumb can go on blissfully believing that they’s saving the environment, paying the poor fairly, stopping global warming, and helping monkey populations.

    Never make a label out to more than what it is. There’s fine print in every one about what they do and don’t do.

  2. Nicholas said

    Thanks for checking my blog out!

    I wholeheartedly agree – paper cups shouldn’t be meant for coffee! And as adults, we should realize that using disposable cups incurs some negative consequences, both on the environment and on others. The real point of this post was bring the environmental implications of disposable cups to light. Drinking your java from a reusable cup is a proactive issue any individual can do without the help of any sort of organization. And of course, no certification is needed to use your own cup.

  3. nykoelle said

    though I would take a papercup over a dunkin donuts styrofoam cup anytime, I agree in your point entirely. The issue with all these issues is laziness, some people are simply too lazy to bring a bag, or a cup for that matter. Best idea in my opinion? Start charging extra for a cup 🙂 That’ll change minds quick heh.

  4. Great post. But there’s another aspect of coffee environmentalism largely overlooked – roaster pollution and energy consumption. A standard roaster without afterburner belches smoke into the air like a diesel truck. With afterburner, a midsize shop roaster consumes about one million BTU. We have installed what is quite possibly the world’s most eco-friendly roaster that outputs virtually no emissions and consumes about 5% of the power of a conventional roaster. Coffee packaging is another problem – we have addressed it by using biodegradable and compostable packaging – why is this not common? Think about it next time you buy coffee!

  5. Nicholas said

    Oooogh, I hadn’t even thought about the roasting process! But you’re right, the manufacturing process likely needs to be put under the environmental microscope as well. That might be a subject for another post….

    And as for charging people a bit extra for a cup – well I think it’s a great idea! After all, it’s worked in other countries dealing with excessive plastic bags.

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