Lifes all about the little things like a nice cuppa tea or coffee, but our favourite comforting beverages can wreak havoc on the environment. Here’s how to drink tea and coffee sustainably:
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Why they’re bad for the environment
Why Coffee is bad for the environment
In 2014, over 10,4 million hectares of land was used to grow coffee, so you can imagine since then it’s increased! It takes around 140 liters to grow, process, and make just one cup of coffee! To make matters worse, it’s our demand for coffee that’s made it so unsustainable! Coffee used to be intercropped, which meant it was grown alongside other plant life, and animals could co-exist n the plantation. It’s now a mono-crop and sun cultivated, which means that other plants and wildlife can’t have access to the area. It results in deforestation, blights, pests, and robs animals birds a space to rest.
My little Ireland disposes of 22,000 single-use coffee cups every hour! Even more shocking is that half a trillion disposable cups are made every year to fuel the world’s coffee addiction! Coffee cups are typically not recyclable because they need a thin layer of plastic to keep them leak-proof, so they’re going right into landfill.
Why tea is bad for the environment
Like coffee, tea production strips biodiversity from the region as areas are converted into tea mono-crops. Forests have been cleared to make room to grow tea, even parts of the rainforest are sold to grow tea! Not only does this mean there’s less of a variety of plant life, but animals suffer too as the homes of tigers and rhinos in North East India are replaced with tea plantations. It also affects the wider area as clearing the land to make room for tea changes the natural flow of water, which means the soil is more easily eroded and the wetlands dry up. Not to mention pollution.
There are also huge human rights violations in tea production. In some plantations in India, wages are as low as $1-1.5 per day. Women can make as low as 75-84 cent tea picking! Women also experience sexual abuse, harassment, and don’t have privacy. It’s not just adult women and men who suffer, child labour has also been an issue with the tea industry. In 2006, it was reported that 40,000 children were picking tea leaves in Uganda for 30 cents a day! Then in 2010, 90 children were caught working in an Indonesian tea factory!
Most tea bags aren’t biodegradable! This is because many are straight-up plastic, or paper with plastic weaved in. It came as a shock to me, and others, to learn that they’re not compostable, after spending my whole life assuming they’re only paper and can be composted! Their plastic problem isn’t common knowledge, which I would say is actually quite misleading on tea brands part! Most people would think that if the tea itself is compostable, surely it makes sense the bag would be too?
25,000 cups of tea are consumed every second, which works out at an average of 2.16 billion cups of tea a day! Think about how much of that is plastic tea bags.
How to drink tea and coffee sustainably:
There are a few things you can do to reduce the environment and ethical harm of tea and coffee.
How to drink coffee sustainably
First of all, you could try cut down on your coffee intake. You don’t have to eliminate coffee from your life entirely, but if you’re drinking more than three cups a day then it might be a good idea to cut back. It takes one unit of energy to boil a kettle, which may not seem like that much for one cup. However, most people drink multiple cups of coffee (and tea) per day, so it adds up.
If you’re getting coffee on the go you can get a reusable cup to save on plastic pollution. Many places actually give discounts to people who bring their own cup, including big chains like Costa and Starbucks.
As for coffee at home avoid single-use plastic from coffee pods by getting biodegradable pods, or sticking to a good old French press. Or you can try the very convenient coffee bags by New Kings Coffee which are biodegradable, and they take back the foil from the packet free of charge to recycle. When buying grounds of beans look for recyclable packaging if zero-waste isn’t an option. Percol actually do biodegradable packaging!
You can also buy organic coffee as it’s free from harmful pesticides and chemicals.
Try take it a step further and buy your coffee from B-Corps. B-Corporations are businesses that are highly transparent and meet high standards of social and environmental performance. They balance profit and purpose, so usually, eco-companies are b-corps (if they’re not, proceed with caution). They’re basically about being a business for good, rather than a mindless soulless money machine. You can search B Corporation Net for b-corp coffee companies near you.
How to drink tea sustainably
The same applies for tea as it does for coffee; if you drink excessive amounts of it, try cut back. You’ll save money by drinking less tea so it’s not all bad.
Buy tea bags that are specifically biodegradable. You can also buy loose leaf tea. Loose-leaf can be a way to try new and exciting herbal teas and combos! You can even get portable tea infusers so you can still make some tea if you’re in a rush.
It’s better to buy from small brands who care about the environment. Big brands aren’t necessarily evil, but they are the ones causing the most harm.
Try to buy from small local tea companies, and B-Corporations, but what’s even better is growing your own tea. You can grow Camellia sinensis at home which is where black tea, green tea, and white tea comes from. It works best in warm environments, but a plant light and a greenhouse can yield results. Here’s how to grow and make tea from scratch. You can easily make herbal tea with your favourite fruits, peppermint leaves, or ginger.
The Bottom Line
The truth behind tea and coffee is dark. This doesn’t mean that you should never drink coffee or tea again after all this is a guide on how to drink tea and coffee sustainably. Get a reusable cup, buy from ethical companies, and try be as low-waste as you can.