How to Brew a Greener Cup of Coffee

Expert tips on how to brew a sustainable cup of joe.

You're already greener for making your coffee at home instead of driving to the coffee shop and burning fossil fuel. Could you do more? Here, experts' tips on brewing greener:

Buy From a Local Roaster

Buy from a local roaster to reduce the impact of "coffee-miles-traveled" to your cup, says Kimberly Lord Stewart, author of Eating Between the Lines: The Supermarket Shopper's Guide to the Truth Behind Food Labels (St. Martin's Press, 2007). After all, coffee is grown chiefly in equatorial regions, so the beans have already made a long journey; by shopping local, you'll keep it from being any longer. And chances are the beans will be fresher since you've eliminated some of the middlemen steps. Don't forget to reuse or recycle the container you bring your beans home in. Extra points for choosing an environmentally committed roaster like Boulder, Colorado's Conscious Coffees-which makes deliveries by bike and recycles its coffee leftovers into fertilizer for local farms.

Choose an Organic Brew

Choose an organic brew, preferably Fair Trade certified. Opting for certified organic coffee is your guarantee that the beans were grown, processed and harvested without toxic chemicals or pesticides. A "Fair Trade Certified" stamp from TransFair USA casts an even wider net, as it ensures that fair-wage standards and equitable social and working conditions, as well as environmental standards, were met.

Beyond those labels, "you can decide to support an additional cause if it's important to you," notes Kenneth Davids, founder of, the go-to coffee buying guide for industry insiders. "Bird-friendly" coffees, certified with a stamp from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, help ensure coffee was grown with surrounding vegetation and trees left intact, preserving sanctuary for migratory birds (and, incidentally, bees and other pollinating insects). Likewise, a Rainforest Alliance Certification stamp attests that strict guidelines were followed to protect the coffee region's habitat, local population, and wildlife.

But finding "Shade-Grown" on a label is a less helpful guide, Davids notes. "There's no clear definition of what it actually means." What's more, he adds, "in some places you can't grow coffee in shade-such as Brazil or Kona, Hawaii."

Skip the Plastic Pods

Skip the plastic pods. Until someone invents a biodegradable version, disposable coffee pods used in single-cup brewers add to landfill waste-so Stewart recommends avoiding them. Reusable pods are available but a little tricky to use. If you want to brew just a cup at a time with less waste, try a single-cup brewer.

Recycle Your Grounds

Recycle your grounds. Compost nitrogen-rich coffee grounds or use them in your garden: mix directly into the soil for an acidic boost, sprinkle on the surface to make a slug and ant barrier or steep grounds in water for a couple hours to make a nourishing brew for watering plants.

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