An article about coffee, waste and reusable cups. How to be more responsible towards the preservation of our planet without giving up on our favourite drink?

 An article about coffee, waste and reusable cups. How to be more responsible towards the preservation of our planet without giving up on our favourite drink?

How many cups of coffee do you drink per day?

Two, three, four? Add your tea cups to the list as well. Are you holding a cuppa while reading this article?

We often remind you to shop using your own reusable bags and we will continue doing so while also encouraging you to get your hot drinks in reusable cups.

The main character in today's article is his Royal Highness, the coffee and we'll learn about how we can enjoy it guilt-free without generating any waste.

It's interesting to notice that such a small habit which we've taken for granted can have a detrimental effect on our planet.

The average Bulgarian cafe selling coffee to go uses between 200-300 disposable coffee cups per day which makes it 2,000 cups per week and over 110 000 cups per year. For 1,000 cafes, the number of used disposable coffee cups would be - 110 000 000 according to the team behind the @Coffee-by-coffee project.

We drink 1-2 coffees per day on average. That makes 2 250 000 000 disposable coffee cups  thrown away every single day! For an act that takes not more than 5-10-15's crazy, isn't it?

There was a joke saying "Boys, if you don't remeber her name in the morning, take her out for a coffee somewhere where they write the customers' names on the coffee cups" : D

Are you familiar with the history of coffee?

Did you know that the magical grain is grown in over 70 countries worldwide? Mostly in Brazil, India, Columbia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Indonesia, Kenya, The Philippines. The most popular coffee bean types are Robusta, Liberica and Arabica. There are plenty of subtypes of course. The beans are to be formed into sheaves, each fruit has 2 of them and they grow on evergreen shrubs. The differences between them are due to the different regions they grow in.The most suitable ones are the subtropical and the equator ones as well as the ones of the countries mentioned above. It can take between 4-5 years for a shrub to grow to the point when it can produce beans.  

When did coffee reach Europe's shore?

The magical drink has been in Europe since 17th century and it's been the favourite of many ever since. It's considered the second most popular in the world after tea (third if we count water). We also love tea - green, black, herbal, name it - both hot & cold. Despite the fact that we don't have any special tea ceremonies over here in Bulgaria a lot of us are very fond of tea and associate it with the calm, almost stolen moments when time just stops. It has marked our daily routines and it is pretty much part of the sweet time we enjoy with family, friends or colleagues.

How did coffee get into our cup?

People still argue whether coffee is a fruit or not. In fact, the whole journey starts with one small grain. The process of the grain's journey from planting to one's cup is pretty long and it involves subprocesses such as: harvesting, processing, roasting, transportation, sales, grinding, brewing...

And while in some parts of the world coffee is still harvested by hand, in many others there are machines in charge of that. Each coffee fruit has 2 beans as we already mentioned and professional plantation workers manage to pick between 90-100 kg of coffee fruits per day!

Afterwards the coffee beans are cleaned, thrown into water so that the unripe ones get to float, their outer layer gets removed and the beans get dried. Then they are sorted into different types according to properties and get transported to the roasting facilities. Their flavour depends on how long they've been roasted for. Of course, it is very important that they're stored properly.

Brewing afterwards depends on the individual taste, quantity preference and type. All in all, it's a chain of people working together to get your cup of coffee ready and next time you get a cuppa - spend a few seconds thanking all of the involved ones for bringing this delight to you. 

Types of coffee machines and what do we need to know about them?

Most of us are coffee addicts but we all like it differently - black, long, with milk, with/without sugar, etc. One of the most popular coffee types is espresso, made of Robusta beans which are the main culprit for its loved and cherished aroma. For the preparation of one good quality espresso one needs around 7-8 grams of ground coffee, for a filter coffee that is 2 table spoons and for a Turkish one - 1 table spoon.

But why are we introducing you to these behind the scenes technique? Each coffee drink has its own specifications apart from the quantity of coffee used, the add-ons, the preparation time, the machine and utensils are also pretty important. 

Of course, if you don't like instant coffee, then you're probably a proud owner of a machine, mocca or a Turkish coffee pot. There are different types of machines, some work with ground coffee, others with beans, filters or capsules. 

Positive and negative sides of the different types of coffee machines

Capsules have 1 and only benefit - they help us to choose the type of coffee we'd like to have quickly and they offer it in the perfect dose. BUT capsules also tend to be more expensive than ground coffee which you can easily find even in the small neighbourhood shops AND they're not biodegradable. You might wonder WHY is that? Well, they're made of plastic and metal so that they can seal the delicious coffee aroma and flavour for longer. Because they've been designed as a convenient, disposable product, their recycling is pretty complex so please do not throw capsules in the recycling bins! What you can do though is to send them to Nespresso's recycling centre. There are more than 110,000 such centres worldwide. That still doesn't free the company of responsibility for manufacturing such a polluting product but at least it's a step in a more sustainable direction.If you're based here in Bulgaria, since we don't have a Nespresso recycling center, you can send your capsules to our friends at Ecologica - they recycle a wide range of technical, medical and all other sorts of waste.

In 2014 the use of Keurig's K-Cup reached unparalleled levels. Output became so high that there were enough discarded K-Cups to circle the earth 10.5 times which lead to the creation of the Kill the K-Cup” video. 

What can you do to help today?

Although there are biliions of coffee capsules sold daily, there are some alternatives - reusable capsules, for example. Of course, if you already have a capsule coffee machine, we wouldn't advise you to throw it away.

Filter coffee machines are pretty popular in the USA but they've also started gaining momentum here in Bulgaria as well. Of course, if you go for that option, you can get reusable coffee filters.

And because we often swap tea for coffee, we'll try to encourage you to go trifting in the corner shop for a tea strainer which you can use when pouring loose leaf tea.You can find funkier tea strainers online too - in the shapes of swans, monsters, cats and more which can make the ritual of drinking tea a bit groovier. You can also get a filter jug, an infuser or make a DIY one of old, unused fabric.

It's all clear at home but how do I get a coffee when I'm outside without generating any waste?

To avoid coming under the fire of the capsule monster, one has to make smart choices. Even when it comes to something as simple as getting a coffee outside. The fact that we've chosen to live sustainably doesn't bind us to being in cafes and restaurants all the time. Like most other people, we also walk outside and take coffee to go sometimes on the way to work, uni or meetings. Often our good intentions are a bit hard to implement in certain social scenarios here in Bulgaria. A simple request like:

  • Hi, can I get a black coffee to go, please. Could you please pour it in my own cup?

is often met with frowning and lack of comprehension. A lot of baristas say that they will first pour the coffee in a paper/plastic cup and then from there in our cup which makes our efforts completely pointless. BUT do not despair, use these encounters to explain why paper cups are not acceptable like we've done in this video ; )

Another common problem when asking for a coffee to go over here in Bulgaria is that if your reusable cup doesn't fit under the coffee machine in the bar/cafe/restaurant, the staff members are not trained to use a reusable cup first and then to pour the coffee from that cup to yours. They'll immediately reach for the disposable cup nearby.

Great. And now what? Do I need to carry 3 cups around?

No, that wouldn't be necessary : ) We've already found a solution to this problem - our reusable foldable FDA food grade silicone cup which doesn't contain any BPA and can be folded into 3 different sizes - 235 ml, 295 ml и 355 ml. It can also be microwaved and easily put in the dishwasher. We started with 3 different colours - pink, green and black 

If that's not your cup of tea, you can invest in a glass one with lid (for example, the popular Keep Cup one), in a reusable cup made of coffee grounds, in a bamboo one or if you don't want to spend any money at the moment - start with a small mustard jar.

And still are there any places where I can easily get a coffee to go in my own cup?

Of course! If you happen to be in our beautiful capital, Sofia, you can drop by at Blagichka, Fox Book Café, The Art of Love Bakery, Draw & Go Coffee, Vanilla Kitchen,  Owllee, Zelen Bio, Bagri Restaurant and more...

Have you heard of any other environmentally-friendly venues? If yes let us know with a comment below so that we can add them to our list!

Another waste reduction tip even if you don't have a reusable cup/jar at hand atm is just not to take a cup sleeve if you don't need it, same applies to the plastic lid and the coffee stirrer.

What is the conclusion?

Try to be "in the present" and do not take coffee for granted. There are plenty of parties involved in the process of getting it to your cup and each one of them "contributes" to the environment with their CO2 footprint. If you're drinking coffee that comes from Costa Rica, then it probably traveled a long way through the Atlantic Ocean, passing through Europe and then reaching you.

How can I reduce my environmental footprint?

You can start with drinking a little less coffee. For example, if you usually drink 3 coffees per day, try having 2 instead or even 1. You can also try cutting the sugar or cream, two things that also use resources although when talking about coffee, these two rarely get mentioned.

Another tip that we can give you is to go for bio & fair trade certified coffee.

What is more:

  • Check out  @Coffee-by-coffee - a project started by the photographer Nicky Staykov who takes a picture of each coffee he drinks
  • If you're based in Bulgaria, you can also join the Plastic free coffee lovers group on Facebook started originally by employees of corporate companies wanting to ditch disposable cups both in their offices and at the business park they work in
  • You can also keep an eye on the website Sipieu to check where are the closest shops (if you're based in Bulgaria) from which you can purchase items in your own container and drinks using your own cup. After successfully integrating the habit of carrying your own cup, step number two is developing the habit of carrying your own reusable lunch container so that you can wave a final goodbye to the disposable food containers during the lunch break or when you don't feel like cooking.