It’s the hardest habit to break, but could your caffeine fix be costing our world more than you’re budgeting for?
How does your day begin? Whether you’re a ‘two shots of espresso and out the door’ type or a ‘start the day collecting co-workers’ mugs for a round of teas person’, that caffeine fix is the base of our daily social rituals. But just how positive are your daily habits? Time to audit your brews…
Tea has to be a pretty ethical brew, right? Recyclable boxes, biodegradable (finally!) bags – what could go wrong? Well, the largest problem with tea is the exploitation of pickers, many of whom live below the poverty line, work long hours and struggle to feed their families. Huge plantations in India, East Africa and Sri Lanka employ armies of them, and yet the majority of the profit from the leaves they pick is made in the developed countries that process and package the tea. What’s more, these huge single-crop plantations decrease local biodiversity.
The Fairtrade Foundation works to deliver a living wage for pickers on certified farms, and imposes strict standards on employers. According to its statistics, just eight percent of tea consumed in the UK is Fairtrade, leaving significant margin for us to improve our ways. Drink decaf? Opt for brands that use natural CO2 (rather than chemical solvents such as methylene chloride) to release the caffeine from leaves. Choosing certified organic decafs will guarantee solvents haven’t been used.
PG Tips is upgrading the nine billion paper teabags it sells each year, swapping the polypropylene seal to 100 percent biodegradable cornstarch throughout 2018.
Traidcraft works with small farmerowned factories in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania, paying a fair price to growers. Bags retain the plastic seal (there’s no non-GMO alternative, the company tells Natural Health) so opt for the loose leaf tea.
Clipper Tea is not only the world’s biggest and possibly most well-known Fairtrade tea brand but all of its bags are made from unbleached paper, and the range includes several organic blends.
OK, so freeze-dried granules aren’t the number one choice for most discerning coffee fans in terms of the taste, but they bring a few benefits from an ecological perspective. Firstly, boiling a kettle is more efficient than brewing coffee through a filter machine that keeps the jug warm (in fact research suggests than instant coffee produces less than half the carbon emissions of filter coffee). Also, freeze-dried coffee is much lighter than whole or ground beans, and therefore shipping and trucking it around the world is a lot less energy intensive. As with tea, Fairtrade Foundation certification is important when it comes to this beverage because it is grown in some of the world’s poorest regions.
Did you know 5,500 cups of Nescafé are consumed every second? Thankfully, makers Nestlé promise 100 percent of its packaging will be recyclable or recycled by 2025.
Percol supports the Next Generation Coffee Project which educates, trains and subsidises young farmers in Columbia and Tanzania who could not otherwise afford to continue the family business.
Café Direct operates a ‘producers’ foundation’ that re-invests 50 percent of the brand’s profits to build more sustainable practices and empower growers. It also has two organic instant blends, something which can be tricky to find otherwise.
More than 30 percent of UK households own a coffee pod machine, and demand is growing. This is a serious problem given that leading brand Nespresso admits that around 80 percent of its virgin aluminium pods are incinerated or go to landfill. The good news? All espresso machines – whether a compact pod system or a big bean-to-cup espresso maker – are energy efficient, using just 1p-worth of electricity to make seven espressos. The bad? The energy footprint involved in making and transporting pods to your kitchen means the planet is paying a high price for your convenience. Nespresso’s pods can be returned to its boutiques, and Tassimo pods can be taken to 150 UK drop-off points (find your nearest at terracycle. co.uk) but, if you’re committed to keeping your pod habit, alternatives will cut your impact.
Pods from Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range are made of polypropylene, a plastic widely accepted by council kerbside collections.
Compostable pods are widely available, with Percol, Dualit and many indie brands using plant-based plastics that decompose naturally (breakdown will occur faster in your council’s biodigestor than your home compost bin).
Refillable capsules allow you to keep the convenience of a pod system (though filling and emptying is fiddly) without the waste. They’ll save you big bucks, too.
With the scandal of single-use cups firmly on everyone’s radar (only one cup in 400 is currently recycled thanks to a bonded plastic liner) high street coffee chains are scrambling to bring out policies to mitigate this problem. New schemes emerge regularly (so watch this space) but tend to incentivise use of refillable cups. Once the waste issue is sorted attention can turn to arguably more complex issues: sourcing policies, tax avoidance, and aggressive trading practices. Small indie coffee shops may be the best answer, given that they’re the least likely to get away with dodgy practices and the most likely to offer you a brew with a good news story.
In 2005 Café Revive (now re-branded as M&S Café) became the first highstreet chain to offer Fairtrade tea and coffees only, creating a huge leap in UK consumption of fairly-traded brews.
Costa Coffee has promised to recycle around 500 million cups a year, paying recycling facilities an extra premium to remove the plastic lining.
AMT Coffee serves only Fairtrade coffee and organic milk, stocks organic herbal teas, and has a transparent tax policy.
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