How eco-friendly is your coffee break?

We all love coffee.

How eco-friendly is your coffee break?
Source: Pexels/Daniel Fontes

We all love coffee. Unless you’re more of a tea person. In which case, you probably just haven’t had enough coffee.

Because coffee is enjoyed so widely around the world, the way we consume it can affect the environment. In fact, coffee is the most popular drink in the world (apart from water), and it’s estimated that around 2.25 billion coffee cups are consumed worldwide each day.

With so many ways to make coffee, though, what’s the most eco-friendly?

Some people often use single-use pods, and these capsules are becoming more and more popular, with their market value growing 24% from 2021 to 2022. But they seem kind of wasteful, as they’re usually made from single-use plastics and hard to recycle.

But, a surprising new study from the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi in Canada found that brewing coffee from coffee capsules, like K-Cups and Nespresso pods, could be less wasteful than using a traditional coffee maker. Experts stress that, rather than assuming the packaging is the most environmentally-harmful factor, we should consider the product’s entire lifecycle.

“At the consumer level, avoiding wasting coffee and water is the most effective way to reduce the carbon footprint of coffee consumption,” explained Luciano Rodrigues Viana, a doctoral student in environmental sciences at Chicoutimi and one of the study’s researchers.

Researchers found that traditional filtered coffee actually produced the most amount of carbon dioxide from any other method observed (traditional filter, encapsulated filter (pods), French press and instant). The amount of ground coffee needed to make a cup is higher when brewing with a regular coffee pot, and so is the energy needed to heat everything up.

Even though it seems like coffee pods are the worst for the environment because of their packaging waste, that isn’t the case. “As a consumer, what we’re left with is the visible waste in front of us, and that often tends to be packages and plastics,” said Shelie Miller, a professor of sustainable systems at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. “But the impact of packaging, in general, is much, much smaller than the product itself.”