Zero Waste Coffee: What, How, and Why It Might be Time to Hop Aboard

Last Updated on January 13, 2024

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Coffee lovers are very loyal to their brewing methods and brands, but many are also aware of how the coffee is grown and processed, as well as the impact of waste products on the environment. Even though it may seem like ‘one small thing’ every piece of waste we throw away is, literally, one more thing that is discarded, to potentially end up in a landfill or floating in the ocean.

zero waste coffee

The coffee industry is in a much better place than it was just a few years ago with regard to sustainability and the environment. Studies have shown that today’s consumers care more about how their coffee is grown, processed and served, which has led to the rise of organic foods, sustainable farming practices and innovative brewing methods.

In this blog post we’ll discuss what zero waste coffee is, why you might consider using these methods in your home, and also provide some options for innovative ways to repurpose the leftover grounds from your cup of coffee!

By the way, if you click on a link and then decide to make a purchase, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Why Should We Consider Brewing Coffee with Zero Waste Method?

Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages in the world, with over two billion cups being brewed each day. Much like other items that are disposable and contribute to pollution in their production and usage, coffee has its own carbon footprint

Zero waste coffee is an important topic because it has been shown that our consumption habits will have long term consequences on the environment if we don’t make changes now.

Coffee production has a variety single-use items that can be wasteful and harmful to the environment. Some types of coffee come in individual pods which cannot be recycled, plastic lids used for milk can’t be composted or reused once they’re removed from their original container, filters made out of paper pulp. These, too, need to be disposed of.

We tend to focus on our need for caffeine, and not the fact that we’re contributing to the waste problem. The economic costs of generating and disposing all this plastic is getting too high, not to mention how it’s harming our environment.

In order to reduce our personal impact on the environment, considering everyday activities like the simple act of brewing a pot of coffee from a zero waste perspective can be a huge help. When we consider what we’re going to do with the leftover materials after enjoying that cup of java, choosing to utilize available composting, or know that what we are throwing in the garbage is biodegradable, we are doing our part for the environment.

How to Brew Zero Waste Coffee

So, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of zero waste, coffee brewing in particular. If you’ve purchased whole coffee beans, of course you can choose organic regular or decaf from a wide variety of sources. If you choose to invest a little bit of time into those resources, you can learn a lot about how the coffee is sourced, roasted, and packaged.

whiskey barrel coffee gift

From that point you have your coffee, whole bean or ground, waiting patiently for you to brew it into a tasty cup of java. Let’s take some of the more popular ways to brew coffee at home, and see how we can be proactive about reducing or eliminating the waste. Note that our choice of coffee filters, throw away, reusable, or even a stainless steel filter, will affect our carbon footprint.

Brewing French Press Coffee from a Zero Waste Perspective

how to make french press coffee

Yes, French press coffee can be brewed with an eye toward zero waste. It is a brewing method that by nature does not involve packaging, or any type of filter. It’s just the French press carafe, hot water, and coarsely ground coffee.

When your tasty cup of French press is poured, all you have left to discard are the grounds. And though many coffee aficionados would argue that the most important part of a cup is the flavor, it’s always good to consider how you’re making your morning joe in terms of sustainability.

A French press can be purchased very affordably, and will last for years if cared for properly. The beautiful, rich coffee that a French press brews is worth the time and consideration.

Brewing with a Moka Pot with Zero Waste in Mind

how to make espresso with a moka pot

A moka pot is a stove-top espresso maker. Or to be more accurate, the coffee it produces give an espresso-like result. A Moka pot is available in small to large sizes, and can be purchased very reasonably as well.

There is no filter system with this type of coffee brewer; instead the grounds remain inside the pot and the heated water is forced up through the grounds at a high rate of pressure, to brew the coffee. There is a little bit of a learning curve to brewing coffee in a Moka pot, but once you understand the process and know what to look (and listen) for, it’s easy.

Similar to a French press brew, when your coffee has finished brewing in the Moka pot, you will want to pour the coffee immediately into your mug or cup. Then, from a zero waste perspective, there are only the coffee grounds to dispose of or repurpose.

A Pour Over Dripper and Zero Waste Coffee

pour over coffee vs french press

Pour over coffee drippers usually need a paper filter. But there are alternatives to paper filters. A reusable filter to hold the coffee grounds will eliminate the need for paper filters. Or consider compostable and/or biodegradable paper filters. There are a variety of size and options available now for just about any type of coffee brewing method.

Here are just a few for your consideration:

And, the clean, crisp taste of coffee brewed with a dripper just can’t be beat! It’s my personal favorite way to brew a cup of coffee.

Zero Waste and Brewing with a Coffee Sock

brewing with a coffee sock

If you’ve discovered the joys of the simple coffee sock brewing method, you’re already on the path to zero waste coffee.

All you need is coffee, preferably freshly ground, an organic cotton sock that fits your brewing device (pour over, Hario V60, Chemex, etc) and your trusty coffee mug. Note the instructions on how to prepare your new coffee sock for it’s first use, and also the best way to clean your coffee sock.

The cloth filter will stop any grinds from making their way into your drink while still allowing all those precious flavors to develop.

Add your ground coffee to the sock, place it over your mug and pour hot water through. You’ll want to pour slowly, and as with other types of brewing methods, pour in a small amount to cover the grounds and let the coffee bloom. Then continue to pour slowly over the grounds, until all of the water has passed through the coffee sock. This should take a couple of minutes.

The result is delicious, rich and flavorful coffee with no trash!

Cold Brew Coffee with a Zero Waste Perspective

Do you love the taste of a cold brew? Great! This brewing method is perfect when considering zero waste.

Here are some simple steps for creating tasty cold brew coffee:

  • Grind your coffee beans to a coarse grind.
  • Add the ground coffee into either a large pitcher or jar, then fill with cold water with a 4 to 1 ratio of coffee to water.
  • Stir gently with a wooden spoon to make sure all of the grounds are wet
  • Let it steep for 12 to 24 hours at room temperature, and taste periodically to see if it is a your preferred strength.
  • Once done steeping, filter out any grounds using cheesecloth or another reusable cloth of choice and store in a glass container in the frig.

As you can see, there is nothing to dispose of except the used coffee grounds.

Your Coffee Maker: Can It Be Zero Waste, too?

single cup coffee and zero waste

A drip coffee maker is a popular choice for many java lovers, as is the efficient and versatile single cup brewer. So how can we reduce or eliminate waste with these types of coffee gear?

With a standard drip coffee pot, repurposing the coffee grounds is always an option, as is a reusable coffee filter to eliminate the paper filters that get thrown away.

Do you have a single cup coffee maker? I do, and I use it every day. Here’s what I have started doing to eliminate waste. I use coffee pods. Not the K-cup style, but a pod that consists of just the filter so there is no plastic involved.

There are brands of coffee pods that are compostable, too. That is what I am using, and every part of the packaging is compostable, including the bags that the coffee arrives in. The only recyclable piece is the shipping box:

  • SF Bay Coffee Pods – I love the French Roast, Fog Chaser, and Organic Rainforest blends from SF Bay! All of the components are compostable so I know that I’m not tossing anything into the garbage, and ultimately into a landfill. And guess what? The coffee is amazing! Zero waste coffee? You bet it is.
  • Tayst Coffee Pods – this is a wonderful coffee subscription service that is incredibly flexible. Their premium beans are roasted fresh, cooled slow, then portioned into a compostable pod. The coffee beans are sustainably sourced through The Rainforest Alliance.

Repurposing Your Used Coffee Grounds

There are a number of ways we can repurpose our used coffee grounds rather than discarding them. used grounds into the landfill.

We can create compost for our gardens to nourish plants and trees. A study found that compost made with coffee grounds and kitchen waste was richer in nutrients than that which was made from just waste. Your compost can also include herbs, egg shells, stale bread, fruit and veggie trimmings, and grass clippings.

If you have an herb garden or any type of edible plant in your yard, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to repurpose the used coffee grounds as fertilizer. As plants grow, they deplete the soil of nutrients, and coffee grounds help make up that deficiency. Did you know that coffee grounds also attract worms? Your garden plants will thank you for that.

The grounds can also be used to deodorize your fridge. Coffee grounds contain nitrogen, and that helps eliminate odors in the air. Place a few spoonfuls of coffee grinds into the back corner of your frig or freezer and leave overnight so it has time to soak up odors!

Another way to repurpose your used coffee grounds is to use them as a natural scrubber. When you’re done with your morning pot of coffee, dump the grounds in an old sock and tie it off to make a scrub brush for pots or other surfaces that need cleaning. And, you can use them to remove odors from your hands after chopping onions.

Sum It Up

If zero waste coffee is your goal, there are a number of actions you can take to make that happen, or at least get closer to the goal!

For many of us it comes down to thinking about what we are purchasing, how we are using the product (for our purposes here it’s coffee and coffee gear), and ultimately what we are discarding.

Taking the time to use a reusable coffee filter, looking for ways to repurpose at least some of the used coffee grounds, and ultimately throwing less refuse into the garbage bin, would be considered a win!

zero waste coffee - how to get there