Curious about one of the very easiest ways to go greener every single day? It’s simple: just forego your morning coffee & tea. Okay, okay. So I wake up at 5:15 every day too and that’s just not altogether feasible, nor enjoyable for that matter. However, it does have a pretty big carbon impact and cutting it out for even just half the time can make a big difference over the years. Nevertheless, if you aren’t anywhere near willing to skip that daily cup of joe ever, you can still do a few other things to lessen the carbon footprint associated with it.
So, just how bad can a cup of coffee be for the environment, you ask? Well, if you drink 4 cups of black tea or coffee a day for a year, you’re contributing about 30 kg of CO2 a year. Or, in more easily understood terms: a 40 mile drive down the way. That’s not so bad, right? Maybe not. But, three lattes a day for the next year, and you’re up to the equivalent of flying halfway to London. Triple that over 3 years, and you might as well buy a plane ticket and jet around the world in some monster jet plane in first class.
These numbers make the impact easier to grasp:
1 cup of black tea or coffee 21g CO2
1 cup white tea 53g CO2
1 large cappuccino 235 CO2
1 large latte 340 CO2
(Per How Bad are Bananas by Mike Berners-Lee)
So, the takeaway here is obviously the milk* added. To add dairy to an espresso is to add 2/3 of the entire drink’s carbon footprint, and the addition of milk alone is worse than the carbon impact of boiling the water and cultivating the tea or coffee combined. (*Assuming the milk is dairy milk.)
So, if you’re a latte or cappuccino drinker, the news is easy, cutting frothed milk and creamer and whipped topping will drastically reduce your impact. Play around with various “milks” like soy and almond. Not excited? Just remind yourself that drinking a black cup of coffee has four to five times less carbon impact than your preferred latte. That might do the trick.
The second easiest way to cut down your impact related to coffee and tea drinking is to avoid to-go cups. Since Americans are averaging 400 million cups of coffee per day right now, that means we drink something like 146,000,000,000 (yeah, that’s 146 billion) cups of coffee per year and we throw away about 25 million Styrofoam cups a year. If you need a little more shock value, look at theses number projected for 2010*:
Number of disposable cups to be used in the U.S. alone: 23 billion
Tons of wood consumed for those cups: 1.4 million
Number of trees cut down: 9.4 million
BTU’s of energy used: 7 trillion
Gallons of water used: 5.7 billion
Pounds of solid waste created: 263 million
*Data retrieved from: Sustainability Is Sexy
And the worst part of it all? Styrofoam cups (of which we currently dispose 25 million of), are the worst of all because they never break down. And the majority of other “disposable cups”? Well, first of all, FDA regulations don’t allow recycled paper to come in contact with beverages, so your cups are never recycled to begin with. And on top of that, coffee cups have a coating of a plastic called polyethylene to keep leaking to a minimum. It also just so happens to be un-recyclable.
So, the take-away for easy ways to go green? If you are going to keep drinking coffee and tea, see if you can skip the milk, or at least try an alternative like almond. And finally, avoid coffee to-go cups at all costs and always come or go prepared with your own thermos. A few other easy tips: only boil the water just till boiling and only boil as much as you need – you can cut down up to 20 g of CO2 with every cup that way. And finally, if you make your own coffee, find coffee that boasts zero or negative carbon footprints. One great option is Tiny Footprint Coffee. For every pound of coffee they sell, they pay for 54 pounds of carbon offset, making a 50 pound difference and a negative impact on their coffee.
Freelance writer Tara Alley writes primarily about eco-friendly ways for the average person to improve their lifestyle. She’s currently working alongside Air & Water helping them to promote portable air conditioners in lieu of using a central air system.