How to Green Your Cup of Coffee

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If your morning routine wouldn’t be complete without a cup of coffee, you’re not alone. An estimated 56 percent of American adults consumed coffee daily in 2010, according to the National Coffee Association.

But the industry’s impact on the environment and human welfare is making headlines. So, is there a way to make your morning cup kinder and greener without giving up the habit entirely? We say, absolutely. Here are some tips to help you green that cup o’ Joe.

coffee, mug, cup, beans, java, latte

Americans consume an estimated 400 million cups of coffee every day, making the U.S. the largest coffee consumer in the world, according to the National Coffee Association. Photo: Flickr/"The Wanderer's Eye"

All about the beans

You know you’re in the market for eco products, but it can be tough to decide which labels to reach for. Staring down an aisle of organic, local and fair items can make any shopper feel a little overwhelmed. Which one will taste better? Which is cheaper? And most importantly, which is better for human welfare and the environment? As always, the decision is up to you. But here are some things to consider when choosing your next cup.

When it comes to coffee, you can usually scratch locally-grown off your list of possibilities. Since coffee beans require subtropical climates and high altitudes to flourish, there aren’t many ideal locations in the U.S. Only a lucky few Americans have access to true, locally-grown coffee (we have to admit, we’re a little jealous).

Well, if I can’t buy local, what should I do? Choosing organic coffee ensures that no agrochemicals, pesticides and other chemical additives were used to produce your morning cup. It’s also said to be tastier and better for your bod.

Many organic coffees are also labeled as “shade grown”- meaning coffee plants were grown under the cover of rainforest canopy, allowing soil to retain a nutrient base and resist depletion. Both organic and shade-grown growing practices help to preserve the native environment and help shrink the footprint of your iced latte.

SEE: Infographic: Buying Fair Trade vs. Local

Fair trade refers to a system of buying and selling goods in a way that workers, farmers and communities are paid a fair wage. Fair trade requirements also prohibit child labor and ensure that small farmers are guaranteed a minimum price for their goods. Just because a coffee isn’t labeled “fair trade” doesn’t necessarily mean coffee-growers were treated poorly. But reaching for a fair trade item is a good way to be sure your dollars are going towards coffee with a conscience.

Fair trade and organic coffees used to be sold mostly online and in specialty stores, but more and more conventional retailers are carrying these products. Check out the coffee aisle at your local grocery store for organic and fair trade options. Not all fair trade coffees are organic, but it’s usually pretty easy to find a coffee that’s both.

READ: Fair Trade Products More Popular at U.S. Mainstream Stores

What about the grounds?

Groggily picking yesterday’s ground-filled filter out of the coffee machine and tossing it in the trash is mostly muscle memory for many of us. But resist the temptation to trash your grounds, and compost them instead.

Coffee grounds are great food for your garden and houseplants, but separating the grounds from the filter can become an icky mess. If you want to keep your fingers clean and your footprint light, take the easy road and toss the whole thing into the compost bin – filter and all.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Coffee filters are compostable! And they’re actually as good for your compost pile as fruits and veggies, according to the EPA.

SEE: How To Grow Your Own Mushrooms with Coffee Grounds

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