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Mindful Coffee: Enjoy coffee while reducing waste


National Coffee Day

Fall is here, and we’re celebrating all things delicious, aromatic, and cozy. We’re talking pumpkin spice, warm sweaters, and hot coffee. National Coffee Day is September 29 each year and International Coffee Day is October 1. If you’re an avid coffee drinker, we know how passionate you are about your java, but you may not be aware of the environmental impacts and opportunities coffee also has.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of needless waste when it comes to drinking it. From excessive paper cups thrown in the trash to pesky little pods full of grounds and foil coffee bags that seem recyclable, but are not. Learn more about how we are celebrating the world’s most popular beverage these next few weeks, mindfully.

The History

Coffee’s story starts in Ethiopia’s highlands, the natural homeland of the delicate Coffea arabica plant. Exactly how and when it spread beyond Ethiopia is still the subject of many legends, but the available historical records suggest that the Sufis of Yemen were the first truly devoted drinkers outside Africa in the Middle Ages it was intimately connected with their mystic rituals back in the 15th century. Europeans got their first taste about 100 years later — with Venice leading the way. Per the National Coffee Association, it wasn’t a smooth ride. The local clergy condemned coffee when it came to Venice in 1615. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. He decided to taste the beverage for himself before making a decision, and found the drink so delicious that he gave it papal approval.”

Back in the U.S., if it weren’t for the Boston Tea Party in 1773, Americans may never have swapped tea for coffee.  A yearning for “specialty” coffee took hold in the 1960s and a little Seattle company called Starbucks changed everything in 1971.


Today the U.S. coffee shop market has grown to a $45.4 billion industry, according to Allegra World Coffee Portal’s 2019 Project Café USA report. Dry coffee sales topped $9 billion in 2017 in the U.S, and every day more than 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed across the globe.

Coffee remains vital for many countries’ economies. Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia are today the three most prominent producers of the raw coffee bean, while the United States, Germany, and France are the biggest importers.

Environmental Challenges

The downside to this rich and aromatic dark drink is that most of the coffee grounds used to make cups of coffee are thrown away, with six million tonnes sent to landfills every year. This is bad for the environment. Decomposing coffee grounds release methane into the atmosphere; methane is the second-most abundant greenhouse gas and has a global warming potential up to 86 times greater than CO2.

Most disposable coffee cups cannot be recycled, even though consumers often think they can. Most are lined with polyethylene to make it waterproof, but it also makes it non-recyclable for most facilities. According to Science Alert, the number of disposable cups thrown away has exploded to an estimated 2.5 billion a year, or around 5,000 every minute.

Other obstacles to this growing thirst include climate change. The rising global temperatures and more irregular weather mean trouble for its long-term survival in many traditional coffee-growing regions. This will mean fewer viable farms and a boost in other areas due to shifting weather patterns.

One simulation by Oriana Ovalle-Rivera at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia, for instance, predicts that Brazil will lose 25% of its suitable land for cultivating Arabica by 2050.

Lastly, according to Mother Jones,  the waste that single-serve coffee machines sold in North America in 2014 produced enough trash to circle the earth 11 times.

SBO SKT Reusable Cup: $8.00


So how can we enjoy a damn good “cup of joe” while also making a difference?

Well here are some easy and innovative ways coffee grounds can be recycled and we can reduce waste to contribute towards the circular economy:

  1. Avoid the paper cups

Support the coffee shops that recycle, reduce waste, and offer cups made of recycled materials. You can also bring your own reusable tumbler or mug. Coffee containers made of plastic or tin can also be recycled.

Carton recycling is growing and many communities are now accepting cartons in their recycling program. Try to avoid the individual creamer cups, as those are not recyclable.

  1. Biofuels

If you ever leave your cup of coffee for a while, you’ll see that a shiny layer appears on top. That layer is the natural oils contained within coffee beans. Many remain within the coffee grounds thrown away after brewing. Those natural oils in coffee grounds can be extracted to be used as biofuel.

Oils in the spent coffee grounds are extracted and mixed with alcohol to undergo a transesterification chemical reaction. This produces biodiesel that is roughly 80% coffee and 20% alcohol, plus glycerin as a byproduct.

In a recent experiment, US chain Dunkin’ Donuts developed a small home powered entirely by a coffee-derived biofuel. Coffee-powered biodiesel has also been used as a fuel in trials on London buses.

  1. Health, beauty, and home

Coffee grounds make a great exfoliating scrub, and the caffeine in the grounds stimulates skin cells, which can produce tighter healthier skin. The grounds can be added to coconut oil or various other products and massaged on the skin and hair during a shower. Coffee also has antioxidant properties and contains a natural astringent, which makes it a right face toner and cleanser.

As well as being rich in natural oils, potassium, and nitrogen, coffee grounds have an abrasive texture that can make them a recycled alternative to various cleaning products in the home when mixed with baking soda. This mixture is good for scouring pots and pans, but keep in mind that it can stain certain surfaces. Grounds can also be used to help sharpen the blades of garbage disposal. Add one tablespoon of grounds to the disposal while the water is running.

  1. Coffee logs

This winter, instead of burning traditional wood to keep warm, why not throw a coffee log on the fire?

UK company bio-bean collects coffee grounds from businesses, universities and train stations across the country. At its coffee recycling factory in Cambridgeshire, it processes thousands of coffee waste tonnes into coffee logs.

Made from the grounds of 25 cups of coffee, bio-bean claims its coffee logs burn 20% hotter and longer than kiln-dried wood. It also claims that burning its coffee logs generate 80% fewer emissions than sending coffee grounds to landfill.

  1. Find alternatives to using the pods for your single-use coffee machine or consider recyclable pods

The popular Keurig® single-use coffee machine has now introduced recyclable Green Mountain K-Cup® pods that are made from #5 plastic. Nespresso® is another coffee-pod machine that has just started a pod recycling program to make it easy for their customers to send the pods back for recycling. Or you can also simply use a reusable coffee filter. This way, you buy your own coffee and pack the filter yourself, enjoy your coffee, wash, and reuse, with no plastic coffee pods to dispose of.

  1. Capture greenhouse gases

Instead of decomposing coffee grounds releasing methane into the atmosphere on a landfill site, scientists have found a way to store carbon dioxide and methane in waste coffee grounds.

Research published in the Institute of Physics’ Nanotechnology journal reveals that heating coffee grounds with potassium hydroxide creates a material that can store methane. It can also be used to store carbon dioxide, and the process is relatively fast and cheap compared to other carbon capture and storage methods currently available.

  1. Fertilizer

Probably the best-known method of recycling coffee grounds is to use it as a fertilizer. It has led many cafes and coffee chains to offer free grounds for their customers to take away and use in their gardens. However, research shows that coffee grounds must be composted for at least 98 days before they are put on plants.

Until then, coffee contains high levels of caffeine, chlorogenic acid, and tannins that are toxic to plants. However, after the coffee grounds have been composted, these toxins subside and plants can benefit from the potassium and nitrogen in roasted beans.

This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of CADA.

The Purpose-Driven