Coffee and Climate Change: 3 Things You Can Do Today

Wiki Media Commons, Nevit Dilmen

Wiki Media Commons, Nevit Dilmen

In my house, most mornings can’t really begin without my “wake up cup of coffee.” Yet, climate change is not only making coffee more expensive, it is threatening coffee crops in virtually every major coffee producing region of the world. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists: “Higher temperatures, long droughts punctuated by intense rainfall, more resilient pests and plant diseases—all of which are associated with climate change—have reduced coffee supplies dramatically in recent years. And, because coffee varieties have adapted to specific climate zones, a temperature rise of even half a degree can make a big difference. A long-term increase in the number of extreme and unseasonal rainfall events has contributed to lower crop yields that are threatening the livelihood of coffee growers all over the world.

So, as we all struggle to get our arms around our growing climate crisis, connecting the dots between our “daily cup of coffee” and taking action to slow down the impacts of climate change can in fact be important dots to connect. I was fortunate to sit down recently with Joe Lamp’l, Creator, Executive Producer and Host of the award winning national PBS series, Growing a Greener World and Founder of Joe is a tremendous source of inspiration and information and had some practical ideas about ways to “connect the dots” between coffee, the climate crisis, and managing our waste stream. Joe and I talked at length about what has become a ubiquitous item for many households – coffee pods – a “convenient” idea, that perhaps seemed like a good idea at one time. Unfortunately this “convenience” has turned out to be s significant source of waste and a contributor to our climate crisis.

According to Joe: “In 2014, 9.8 billion of those tiny plastic coffee pods were used. To put this into perspective if you lined them up end to end they would circle the globe 11 times. ” Most people put their used pods in their regular garbage, which then goes to a landfill where the coffee pod may never breakdown, contributing to methane gas which is released from landfills. Joe reminded us that methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, which like carbon dioxide is a major contributor to climate change. We know that over a 20 year period, methane is 86 times more potent a greenhouse gas then carbon dioxide, and over 100 years, 34 times more potent. So, not only is our coffee being impacted by climate change, but how we brew our coffee directly contributes to the climate change that is in turn impacting our coffee. “Connecting the dots” and understanding the implications of what we do, is so important.

By Tim Jewett [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Jewett [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Advice from Joe: Three Things You Can Do Today

1. Educate yourself. Here are a few of Joe’s top go to sites:,,
2. Start composting at home, in your building, at your place of work. If it isn’t possible, then find out if others in your community, either the municipality or private contractors collect compost. Keep coffee and coffee pods out of municipal waste dumps. Take the first step. The journey of 1000 miles begins with a first step; first our house, then our community, our cities, and we can then continue rolling…
3. Think beyond convenience. Each of those coffee pods you are using goes somewhere. Make a conscious decision to keep each pod out of a waste facility.

So what should we do about coffee pods? Joe shared with us his “good, better and best” scenarios.

“Good” is to recycle the pod. Many companies are now encouraging you to ship the used pod back to them to be reused or recycled.

“Better” use a pod that is biodegradable. So, even if the pod goes into a landfill, hopefully it would biodegrade over time.

“Best” is to use a compostable pod. Joe shared with us his take on a compostable pods that he is testing out and which can be thrown in with your municipal compost and fully composted in a municipal facility. Now, if your town or city doesn’t have municipal composting, you can still put the pod in your backyard compost. Joe’s been experimenting with this and has found that the part that doesn’t easily compost is the ring on the top of the pod. You may need to take these out when your compost is ready at the end of the season. Joe did tell us that the ring, while hard to compost in a backyard setting, is made from a coffee bean pod.

While Joe didn’t take it one more level to “very best,” we would add – no pods at all! At ClimateMama we use a machine that grinds our beans and then leaves the grinds, which we regularly sprinkle in our dry compost with our leaves and branches.


Climate Mama

Used with permission

Used with permission

Joe Lamp’l is the Creator, Host and Executive Producer of the award-winning national PBS series, Growing a Greener World® and Founder of He is also the previous host of Fresh from the Garden DIY Network, as well as on-air contributor to The Today Show, Good Morning America and The Weather Channel. In 2011, The American Horticultural Society selected Joe as the recipient of the Society’s B.Y. Morrison Communication Award, which recognizes effective and inspirational communication – through print, radio, television, podcasts and other online media. Joe is also spokesperson for Massimo Zanetti Beverage.

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