The industry has come a long way in recognizing its carbon imprint on the planet. The coffee world is certainly a factor in creating a negative impact on the environment. Between deforestation for cash crops, non-recyclable packaging, and water usage, we generate a lot of waste from all areas of the supply chain. So, how can we offset some of the contributions we’ve made towards climate change? Here are a few ways that coffee roasting businesses and cafés can do their part in creating a more sustainable coffee industry.
From customer cups to bean bags, there are plenty of items in the cafe that can be hard, reusable materials instead of single-use items. Encourage your customers to bring in their own mugs by offering a small discount for doing so. As a cafe, providing your own mugs for in-house consumption will also contribute to a paper-free coffee environment.
Another type of reusable option that often gets overlooked are coffee bean bags. For coffee shops, they’re often buying coffees that come in non-recyclable bags, and packaging their own coffee beans for customers in that same material. If you are a roasting business providing coffee for your cafes, consider delivering your final products in Cambro containers and other reusable storage containers. This cuts down on your own materials costs. It also keeps the coffee fresher longer since these containers are usually airtight.
For customers who are returning to your business regularly for bean fillups, encourage them to also bring their methods of airtight containers. Plenty of companies nowadays are even creating coffee-specific storage containers for home brewers. This can be a similar system as reusable mugs in offering a discount on beans.
Compost Your Coffee Grounds
For many cafes, the amount of waste that comes from coffee grounds is huge. According to Perfect Daily Grind, most countries dump about 75% of their grounds into a landfill. Unfortunately, many municipalities also don’t have legitimate composting programs.
One way you could promote composting is by offering signage in your space for gardeners. Coffee grounds contain plenty of nutrients, and serve as a beneficial addition to garden soil because of the nitrogen. Offer customers who take your coffee grounds a small incentive for taking your grounds, and simply place your used filters in a container to be given away at the end of the day.
If you are a business owner and a gardener yourself, you can check out our article on how to use coffee grounds in your soil. This will create a sustainable coffee program for both you and other gardeners.
Make Use of Your Excess Water
Between dumping rinse water, cleaning brewing equipment, and flushing portafilters in espresso machines, the cafe environment carelessly goes through an endless supply of water. Be thoughtful about how often you’re performing water cleanings throughout the day. Try to backflush your portafilters only after heavy service. You could also dump your filter water into a small cambro, and re-use to water the plants in your cafe (and let’s be real, who doesn’t have at least a few houseplants in their cafe at this point?)
Coffee (and Milk) is Precious
The days of aesthetically pleasing images showing cups dumping coffee in mid-air are long gone. The long hours with nothing to do on bar does not mean it’s time to pull shot after shot of espresso to find the perfect dial-in. Latte art throwdowns are not an opportunity to get through as many rounds as possible with the most amount of milk.
Think of the hard work that a farmer put into making your coffee possible. Every coffee bean was once a seed of a cherry that a farmer handpicked, sorted, and carefully processed to be the final product in your cup. That being said, this hard work shouldn’t be tossed into the trash if it tasted “overextracted” or “underextracted.”
When performing dial-ins at the cafe level, try to give it no more than three changes at most to your ratios, whether it be for espresso or pourover. If your espresso grinder dumps more coffee that you need for your shot, try to reserve the excess grounds in a small cup to be used during that shift. You can also contribute those excess used grounds from rejected dial-in recipes to the compost pile.
Lastly, consider saving the extra milk and used beverages poured during latte art throwdowns. Just think of the gallons of milk that go into simply judging a pretty looking latte. The price of that milk is a lot higher than the winning financial prize for first place. A lot of the used lattes can be saved as iced lattes for later. In these trying times, to-go iced lattes have proven to be an item in demand. Bottle them up and serve them for customers in a sanitary and safe manner.
Use Better Materials
Lately, the industry has been quick to adapt to compostable packaging, cups, and utensils to be a more sustainable coffee business. However, many of these companies’ packages are not 100% compostable. This isn’t to say that they aren’t compostable, but the language can be misleading. Instead, they are more compostable than something that is not, and will still end up in a landfill. Also consider the many municipalities that do not have composting programs.
Similarly, those cities that do have programs do not have the machinery or equipment to completely break down these materials. Rather, these programs are able to only compost organic matter.
Biodegradable also does not equal recyclable or compostable. Rather, biodegradable is a buzzword that means something can simply be broken down—over thousands of years.
Do your research to find truly compostable or recyclable packaging. One indicator of a non-compostable item is if it is lined with plastic, which a lot of coffee cups are in order to retain heat. You could also avoid buying sleeves, and instead investing in thicker cups to produce less waste.
Your coffee bags can also be more recycling friendly for the same reason. Make sure they aren’t lined with plastic, and try to avoid common pieces like valves or plastic zip ties that reseal bags. Again, the best kind of coffee bean packaging may lie in reusable hard materials.
These are just a few of the many ways that your cafe can be more environmentally friendly. What are some ways that you practice sustainability as a roasting business?