Coffee as a garbage collector – tips to avoid it
Coffee impresses with its delicious fragrance and fine taste aromas. Who thinks about the ecological footprint that black gold leaves with their morning coffee? 140 liters of virtual water are needed to make a cup of coffee. Coffee capsules made of aluminum, the disposable cups of the “café-to-go” keep the mountains of rubbish growing. But there are also alternatives that protect the environment and still do not mean a loss of comfort.
The thing about the water
For many consumers, the sustainability and environmental compatibility of a product are becoming increasingly important. It is interesting that the problems that coffee production cause in the environment are often ignored: the plants need irrigation, the pulp is washed off the beans with water and cleaning the machines uses large amounts of water.
Namely: 140 liters per cup of coffee. This amount of water exceeds the daily water consumption of a consumer by 15 liters. It is even more difficult to imagine that global coffee production consumes as much water every year as it flows down the Rhine in a year and a half. But the coffee association decides that the quantities given are only “virtual water”. This is made up of rainwater, groundwater and surface water. In addition, more than 90 percent of the water demand would be covered by rainwater.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the production of coffee, cocoa and meat has the highest water consumption of consumer goods. For comparison: tea needs 35 liters of water per cup. In times of growing water scarcity, these numbers are definitely worth considering, because the majority of coffee lovers enjoy coffee several times a day. Overall, the average coffee consumption per capita in USA is 1.87 cups of coffee per day.
Coffee capsules – comfort at the expense of the environment
Admittedly: Coffee made from coffee capsules impresses with its distinctive aroma and convenient preparation. But the price for the environment is high. In 2018, a staggering 59 billion coffee capsules were produced. This huge amount of lightweights adds up to four million kilograms of garbage annually. Basically, aluminum is one of the recyclable materials. It is more difficult with the plastic capsules because the material is not pure. The material composition of the capsules is one of the best kept secrets of coffee producers. In the best case scenario, the capsules end up in the “yellow sack” and are incinerated with the rest of the unusable material. An intolerable condition, because six grams of coffee powder are encased in up to three grams of packaging.
Growing mountains of rubbish and no future-oriented prospects
The big coffee producers are rightly worried about their image: Tchibo explains that work is constantly being carried out on optimizing the recyclability of plastic capsules with aluminum lids. Concrete information – unfortunately nil. Nespresso, on the other hand, states that more than three quarters of the aluminum capsules could be collected and recycled. The group does not give any real recycling figures.
However, Nespresso set up a consumer-friendly take-back system in Switzerland: the postman picks up the capsules directly from the consumer at home. However, this service is not intended for other countries. From a financial point of view, the hype surrounding coffee capsules is also incomprehensible: Consumers invest up to 90 dollars in one kilo of capsule coffee. A price that exceeds the kilo price of roasted coffee many times over.
Coffee-to-go in disposable cups – a glut of rubbish in the cities
It is already practical, for on the go or when there is not enough time for morning coffee at home. Coffee-to-go in a disposable cup has long since become an attribute of urban life in the big city: the empty paper cup with a plastic coating flies into the nearest trash can. But there are several catches: Because of the plastic coating, the paper is not recyclable and the huge amount of used disposable cups has long since grown into a waste problem.
According to surveys by Deutsche Umwelthilfe, 320,000 disposable coffee-to-go cups are consumed per hour in Germany. That’s three billion disposable cups a year – yes, you read that right! – and they all end up in the trash. 43,000 trees are felled to produce these disposable cups. The production energy consumed in this way would cover the electricity supply of a city with a hundred thousand inhabitants for a year. The same applies to water consumption: 1.8 billion liters of water are required – the annual consumption of a medium-sized small town. And all of this for a product with a “half-life” of 15 minutes or less?
Environmentally friendly reusable solutions
The environmental criticism is also having an effect on the large coffee groups: if you have your coffee-to-go at Starbucks, for example, in a reusable cup you bring with you, you save 30 cents.
At the TU Berlin, a student project turned into a permanent facility in the cafeteria: the reusable cup “Cup Cycle”. They are well received. At the end of 2016, the city of Freiburg started the “FreiburgCup” pilot project. The Freiburg reusable cups cost a deposit and can be returned to any participating branch. With this approach, the city hopes to stem the flood of used disposable cups in the city.
Similar projects are running in Berlin and Rosenheim. Cafes and bakeries are increasingly using reusable cups for coffee-to-go. Hamburg is also moving in terms of environmental awareness: The “Refill-it” lending cup network is establishing itself in twelve bakeries as an environmentally friendly alternative to coffee-to-go.
In summary: enjoy coffee with a clear conscience
You too can make a contribution to minimizing the environmental impact of coffee:
- In principle, do not use coffee capsules.
- Tried and tested preparation options also guarantee delicious coffee results: Take the good old coffee pot out of the cupboard and filter by hand – a pleasure for all the senses.
- Coffee in French: quickly prepared with a French press.
- Permanent filters made of fabric or gold-coated steel mesh save resources.
- Use attractive reusable cups instead of coated one-way cups.
We wish you unadulterated coffee enjoyment!