Context behind the Caffeine: Coffee began as a colonial system with a clear demarcation between producing countries and consuming countries. This unique plant disseminated from Africa can only grow in limited geographic regions, all of which are already experiencing the detrimental effects of climate change. Even as a scientific understanding of coffee has increased, the information disparity inherited from an exploitative past continues to impair the ability of the current generation of coffee farmers to operate genetically robust plantations while making a living that was never really afforded to them to begin with. Without change to this system it is estimated that only fifty percent of all land currently bearing coffee will remain arable for future use. What can you do? Stay educated and start small, here’s what to do with coffee packaging.
Bags: Industry standards for coffee bags entail an inner lining to keep coffee fresh and sometimes include the addition of a one-way valve and/or zipper. This amalgam of materials fused so inseparably is problematic when it comes to recycling. The plastic valve can often be removed and recycled as a small plastic, however, the bags themselves can only be processed by certain locations and thus have limited collection facilities. For Utah residents, Subaru sponsors collection facilities at the Nate Wade and Mark Miller dealerships. These are turned over to TerraCycle, a company dedicated to recycling tricky materials such as coffee packaging. There is a new type of coffee bag largely popularized by Biotre, with a paper/pulp exterior and plant based plastic interior. These can be recycled as a standard soft plastic in most cases.
Cans/Tins: Steel and aluminum cans/tins are completely recyclable in their respective metal recycling available to you.
Pods: Keurig K cups can be recycled with #5 plastic so long as the aluminum foil is removed. Nespresso pods have a lining in the aluminum and require proprietary recycling, drop off locations are found on their website. In short, go with a reusable option.
Alternatives: Bring your own container to the grocery store and use the dispensers they have there. Form a relationship with a local roaster and utilize their pick up in store feature but request to bring your own packaging.
Above all else, take a few minutes to dedicate to researching coffee’s origins, the people behind it, and the potential limits to the ethical and environmental sustainability of its continued production and consumption.