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From Farm to Cup: Sustainable Coffee 101

Posted by Pawan Saunya on

Coffee is beloved everywhere for its energy inducing abilities and indulgent taste. However, the sad reality is that this backbone of the modern world generally comes at an unsustainable price. 

The sustainability issues surrounding coffee can be seen at all stages of production- starting in the growing phase. Traditional farming practices have been passed on through families for decades, and because they were devised before the development of pesticides and fertilizers, these practices are chemical-free and cultivate healthy soil. This method of production is called shade-grown, as the coffee grows in shade beneath the forest canopy- how coffee naturally grows. However, this isn’t common practice.

To keep up with growing demand, most coffee is grown in full sun on land that has been cleared of trees. This method of growing is referred to as sun-grown. It hurts biodiversity, soil health, and water quality due to its use of chemicals and deforested land. In addition, a lot of farmers who grow using this method are usually treated unethically and aren’t paid a fair wage, and some are working under forced labor.  

The next stage of coffee production, processing, is a source of waste and pollution. After coffee is picked, the bean has to be separated from the cherry. This process results in pulp waste, which is often dumped into aquatic ecosystems, harming soil and water health. The processing of coffee also requires a lot of water, and the processing plants discharge effluent that can be greatly problematic to water quality if not properly disposed of. 

After the beans are processed, they’re pretty much ready to be packaged and sold. If you’re like 30% of Britons, you buy coffee that is packaged in plastic pods. These pods are only recyclable if you separate out the plastic components, which is relatively time-consuming. If you don’t buy the pods, you probably buy grounds packaged in plastic bags that aren’t recyclable or compostable. The brewing process also requires the use of paper filters, which require a lot of water and energy- not to mention they’re single-use.

The next stage in the coffee process is brewing, a process that ends with spent coffee grounds as a waste product. 500,000 tons of spent coffee grounds are created each year in the UK. If these grounds are sent to the landfill, rather than being reused or composted, they emit around 1,800,000 tonnes of carbon as they break down. 

After your coffee is brewed, you need a vessel to put it in. Unfortunately, for the average coffee connoisseur, this vessel of choice is often a single-use paper cup. In the UK, 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups are used each year- this is enough coffee cups to stretch around the planet 5.5 times. These cups can’t be composted, because they’re generally lined with plastic, nor can they be recycled at most facilities. 

Courtesy of  The Rolling Bean

Courtesy of The Rolling Bean

What You Can Do:

While each stage of the coffee production process has an unsustainable component, there is a lot that consumers can do to make their coffee habit more sustainable. 

  • Buy shade-grown and fair trade coffee from producers who cultivate personal relationships with their farmers to ensure fair labor practices (Cafédirect, La Colombe, Deans Beans)

  • Buy your coffee in bulk with a reusable bag to avoid plastic packaging (learn how to make your own reusable bag out of scrap fabric here

  • If you use a pod machine for your coffee, buy a reusable pod that you refill with coffee grounds each use 

  • Use a reusable coffee filter rather than paper ones 

  • Reuse your spent coffee grounds to create body scrubs, grow mushrooms, eliminate odors, and so much more

  • Refuse single-use coffee cups by using a reusable mug (preferably a mug or thermos that you already have on hand) 


Kayla Guilliams

Is the blog manager for Zero Waste Club, combining her love for writing with her passion for all things environmental sustainability. She is currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is studying journalism, environmental studies, and food studies in hopes of building a career in environmental activism. You can find her on Instagram as @kaylaguilliams.


DIY: Delicious Crisps From Veggie Peels

Posted by Pawan Saunya on

DIY: Zero Waste and Vegan Ice Cream

Posted by Pawan Saunya on

1.6 million edible bananas are thrown away each year in Britain- often because they get too ripe for people to eat. Luckily, you can easily avert these bananas from the waste stream by freezing them. Freezing these overly ripe bananas gives you a sweet, creamy addition to your smoothies, or a perfect base for vegan ice cream. 

Dairy ice cream uses ingredients like milk, cream, and eggs for the base. These ingredients are all water, land, and resource-intensive compared to plant-based ingredients, and have a higher carbon footprint. 

Dairy ice cream also has ingredients like sugar, chocolate, vanilla, and sometimes palm oil. Palm oil is a notably unsustainable ingredient because it drives deforestation in the Amazon, which increases forest fires and carbon emissions. 

Buying vegan ice cream will ensure you steer clear from resource-intensive dairy, but it won’t necessarily ensure that you steer clear from palm oil or other potentially impactful ingredients. The best thing you can do to ensure your vegan ice cream is low impact (and package free) is to make it yourself.

To make your vegan ice cream, use frozen bananas and non-dairy milk instead of dairy and eggs. This way, you’re averting bananas from being tossed in the landfill, and you’re indulging in a treat that has a lower impact than traditional ice cream. Plus, it tastes great. 

All you have to do is blend together bananas and non-dairy milk until smooth, and then combine the mixture with ice cream toppings of your choice and stick it in the freezer. You’ll have vegan ice cream in no time. 

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Maddie Vos

is in charge of maintaining the Zero Waste Club community through regular video content. A keen videographer, she wants to spread the message of sustainability to the masses. She currently is living and working in London, and enjoys yoga and art in her free time.


Kayla Guilliams

is the blog manager for Zero Waste Club, combining her love for writing with her passion for all things environmental sustainability. She is currently a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is studying journalism, environmental studies, and food studies in hopes of building a career in environmental activism. You can find her on Instagram as @kaylaguilliams.


5 Apps to Help You Live More Sustainably

Posted by Pawan Saunya on

Trying to live a sustainable lifestyle can be daunting because of all the swaps it entails. However, we live in a time where we have apps, websites, and technology that makes everything a little easier- including sustainability. Here are 5 apps that can help you in your efforts to live more sustainably.

Good On You

Clothing is infamous for being both environmentally and socially unsustainable. However, because of a lack of transparency from brands, it can be hard to know what brands act ethically and sustainably. This is where the app Good On You comes in. Good On You allows you to look up a brand and see their sustainability ranking. These rankings are based on their labor, wages, worker safety, resource use and disposal, carbon emissions, and use of animal products among other metrics of social and environmental responsibility. Good On You gets this information by aggregating data from several different certification programs. By breaking down the sustainability of brands into straightforward rankings, Good On You makes information regarding social and environmental responsibility more accessible, making it easier for you to buy from ethical and sustainable clothing brands.


If you’re like every other person with a phone, you probably constantly use Google to access recipes, news, etc.. Ecosia is a search engine like Google, except they use the money they make from ad revenue to plant trees. They plant trees as part of ongoing projects in 15 different countries. They try to plant in biodiversity hotspots to help the local ecosystem, and in areas where planting trees will create value in the land for the local farmers and community members. Just by using Ecosia instead of Google, you’re supporting environmental and social sustainability efforts- it’s probably the easiest sustainable swap you can make.

Happy Cow

Happy Cow is an app that connects you to the vegan and vegetarian restaurants in your area, making it easy to access plant-based meals while on the go. This is especially helpful if you’re in a town where you’re not familiar with the local food scene. Since eating more plant-based meals is a large part of living sustainably, this app is a great resource to help guide you to some of the best plant-based foods in your area. When looking at restaurants on Happy Cow, try to pick local restaurants that appear to have low-waste dining options rather than chain restaurants that typically package everything in plastic.

Too Good To Go

Food waste is a large contributor to carbon emissions, and restaurants are often a large producer of it. Luckily, there are a lot of apps being developed that match this wasted food with those who need it- including Too Good To Go. Too Good To Go allows you to rescue food that would have otherwise gone to waste from local stores at a discounted rate . Not only does this save you money, but it also helps you save the planet. 


You vote with your dollars every time you make a purchase, so it’s important to know what values the businesses you’re supporting hold. CoGo is an app that makes voting with your dollars easy by connecting you with local businesses that hold your same values. You tell the app what values matter most to you- veganism, carbon-neutral practices, waste reduction, etc.- and CoGo will tell you what businesses in your area also hold these values. Not only will this help you shop more sustainably and ethically, but it’s also a way to let businesses know what sustainability practices you value most.

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Sara Benitez

Sara is a traveling yoga teacher with a love for animals and adventures in nature. She has a passion for helping make the world a kinder place through mindfulness practices. She currently lives and works between Spain and London, where she runs group and private classes as well as annual retreats. You can find her on Instagram as @yogawithsara

Photo by @shanicreates