Coffee · Eco-Friendly Living

The dark truth behind our favourite beverages: how to drink tea and coffee sustainably

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.

coffee plantation

Why tea is bad for the environment

Tea isn’t much better.

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!

tea plantation

 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.

lavender tea bag - how to drink tea and coffee sustainably

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.

reusable coffee cup - how to drink tea and coffee sustainably

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.

coffee and a notebook with a leaf on it - how to drink tea and coffee sustainably

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.

peppermint tea plant

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.

happy coffee - how to enjoy tea and coffee sustainably

17 thoughts on “The dark truth behind our favourite beverages: how to drink tea and coffee sustainably

  1. This is a bit of a wake-up call especially for me because I come from Finland. We are the biggest coffee-consuming people on the planet. And no wonder when it’s completely dark day and night half of the year 😀 But our coffee consumption has always been more ecological than elsewhere: we don’t have the take-away culture, we drink coffee only at our homes or at the office. We only drink filter coffee, never pods. The pods have nothing to do with actual coffee! Tastes like E-codes and nothing more, AND they’re wasteful. I only drink 1 cup of coffee in the morning, and that is a necessity. If I don’t, people will be in grave danger ;D

    1. The huge problem is single-use plastic so it’s good that Finnish coffee is at least pretty much zero-waste!

  2. Great article, something I’ve been thinking about lately.
    I’ve just bought a big insulated flask for my house. I fill the kettle up when I want a cuppa, pop whatever’s left into the flask and it stays hot all day (or until used up). It’s also good to save teabags if you fill it with tea.
    Just a little thing but it definitely helps save energy. Thanks for the read!

  3. Goodness me I didn’t know any of this. I never drink coffee, so luckily I don’t have to worry about that! And I be never buy drinks out, like in Starbucks cups or anything like that. But we do love our tea in this house. I may look into loose leaf tea and see how it tastes! I’m not very experimental with tea xxx

  4. This is a great post which really made me think about how my coffee drinking habit impacts the environment. Thank you for raising awareness xxx

  5. Whoa! I had no idea that coffee and tea could be so bad for the environment. Thank you so much for this enlightening post. I will def be more careful!

  6. As a coffee lover, it really saddens me that the industry has so many bad practices. Same as the tea industry too! I think this goes to show that a lot of changes really have to be made, especially when it comes to industry practices. 🙁

  7. I honestly had no idea how bad tea and coffee were for the environment, so this has really opened my eyes. I can’t believe half a trillion cups are made a year! What a complete waste. I don’t actually drink either of these but it’s good to know how even the most everyday items can have such a damaging effect – really gets you thinking! Thanks for sharing.
    Beth x Adventure & Anxiety

  8. Great article, so important – also a lot of coffee is supporting the slave trade… Another horrible outcome of our caffeine addiction! There’s so much more we could be doing to be more sustainable and ethical, this is a great first step!

  9. This has been a huge wake-up call for me and something I truthfully never realised was a problem. I admittedly drink way too much tea and coffee and I’m truthfully ashamed I never realised the consequences. Thank you for such a well written and thought provoking article that has really opened my eyes to the issues without making me feel like the worlds worst person (fantastically written lovely)! You’re definitely a blog I’m so happy to have found!
    Tori |

  10. Oh my I didn’t know all of this. As I’m a big coffee drinker. However I have been using a reusable cup for quite some time now. It just makes it easier plus the floor of my car isn’t filled with the paper/plastic cups. I just gotta remember to bring the reusable cup inside the house and wash it so I can use it the next day.

  11. Thank you for this post, I had no idea that having my coffees were damaging the environment. I have only recently cut back on coffee due to me wanting better skin. But this is just as good a reason to keep it up even after the summer has gone

  12. I feel somewhat guilty here but I started to feel a bit better as I went on. I don’t drink tea at all so I don’t have to worry about plastic bags and I drink 99% of my coffee at home, or sit and drink it from a mug rather than a disposable cup most of the time so my single use plastic is low. I do feel bad about the production side of things though, I had no idea it took that much to produce one single cup x


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