How sustainable are our coffee habits?

As part of our TAKE2 pledge for 2020, the Mia team has interrogated our coffee consumption habits and targeted more sustainable alternatives.

At the beginning of the year, Mia signed up for Victoria’s TAKE2 Climate Change Pledge. This has seen the team embark on a number of initiatives to reduce our individual carbon footprints. It may come as no surprise that for several of our Melbourne-based team, sustainable coffee consumption has been at the top of the list.

There are, it turns out, a few different ways to approach a goal of more sustainable coffee consumption:

  • Takeaway coffees – Are we drinking coffee from takeaway coffee cups that can’t be recycled?
  • Coffee made at home – How much packaging do we consume and how do we dispose of it? And where does our coffee come from?

The other wildcard for 2020 was how the Great Melbourne Lockdown due to the pandemic affected our usual habits.

sustainable coffee consumption
Deirdre’s morning brew

Takeaway coffees

It was an undeniable challenge to embrace more sustainable coffee consumption habits when it came to ordering takeaway coffees this year. During lockdown, most cafes were not accepting keep cups due to the covid risk.

How to avoid the pile of non-recyclable coffee cups from piling up and up and up? Some cafes use disposable takeaway coffee cups that are 100% compostable, but they are few and far between. (We also heard unsubstantiated rumours of a cup trading scheme somewhere…)

While spurning takeaway coffee all together was a viable option (for some), some of us found ourselves ordering more takeaway coffees than usual, because we couldn’t be seated in the cafes. Heading to a cafe for a coffee was, of course, a terrific excuse for taking our daily permitted exercise. Accepting a disposable cup seemed an unavoidable downside.

Determined to eschew disposable cups, Ellen (Mia’s communications specialist) was pleased her regular café agreed to a contactless coffee transfer for the duration of the lockdown. Each day she would visit the same café and place her clean stainless steel cup on the “transfer table”. The barista would then bring over the coffee shot and steamed milk for her large skinny flat white, then pour them into the cup. That’s at least 30 disposable cups saved per month.

sustainable coffee consumption
Contact-free transfer made keep cups a lockdown option

Coffees at home

What about coffees made at home (where, let’s face it, most of us were stuck for much of the year)? Even if we managed to get out for a takeaway coffee once a day, that left all the other daily coffees some of us require…

First, let’s talk about coffee pods/capsules. While these are a convenient, no-mess and quick means of obtaining a moderately acceptable coffee at home, they are not great for the environment. We could write an entire post about the merits (or lack thereof) of aluminium versus plastic pods and the rate they degrade in landfill. Or the energy needed to make them. Bottom line: packaging is packaging is bad.

Acknowledging this, Deirdre (Mia’s managing director) pledged on Facebook early in the year to eschew her pod machine. Instead she dragged out and dusted off her stovetop espresso pot… Since she and Marcello are both caffe latte drinkers, they’ve mastered the art of stovetop espresso in combination with their trusty milk frother.

sustainable coffee consumption
Deirdre has ditched the pods!

Ellen is still searching for an alternative to her pod machine. She has not yet made a halfway decent flat white using her stovetop espresso maker. Neither has her refillable stainless steel capsule proved satisfactory. (Although, to be fair, more experimentation with both could be required.) While she aspires to ditch the pods all together, her current pods of choice are from Pod & Parcel, which sells Melbourne-roasted coffee in compostable pods. (The rest of the packaging is also compostable or recyclable.) There are a range of compostable and biodegradable pods on the market now, so they’re the lesser evil.

The rest of the coffee drinkers in the Mia team make their coffees from ground beans using either a stovetop espresso, plunger or – in Paul’s (Mia’s tender writer) case, a semi-automatic Breville Bambino Plus coffee machine (fancy!). The most dedicated environmentalists on the team compost their coffee grounds or simply throw them on the garden.

The next sustainability challenge we all face is bean selection and the consideration of carbon miles. Most coffee beans are imported, but we can always choose to buy beans that are free trade, ethically grown, and directly shipped to our local coffee roasters, rather than taking a detour to places such as Italy.

A word on tea

It came as a shock, but not everybody on the Mia team drinks coffee. Carol (Mia’s senior consultant) is a dedicated tea drinker. When it comes to sustainable tea consumption, similar principals apply.

Here, loose leaf tea is clearly the winner – especially when you consider that most tea bags contain plastic (true). Carol buys loose leaf tea that comes packaged in a paper wrapper inside a cardboard box, so the packaging is completely recyclable. Used tea leaves then go into the compost.

Thinking about our daily consumption of something as fundamental as coffee (and tea!) is an effective way to adopt and grow our sustainable practices. Small steps lead to bigger steps, and sometimes it’s simply questioning our habits that can lead to change.

Mia’s TAKE2 climate change pledge is to conduct our business in the most sustainable way possible to reduce the impact our business practices have on the environment.

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