Environmental sustainability is a huge buzzword in the coffee industry, and for good reason. Our partner-farmers in Colombia have reported increasingly irregular weather patterns that complicate coffee production, causing massive quality control issues. Undoubtedly, climate change has enormous repercussions on coffee production and unless coffee-roasting companies take meaningful steps, these trends will continue to plague our farmer-partners who dedicate their lives to growing stellar coffees.
Businesses cause a far greater majority of environmental pollution than private citizens, and so this year we’ve placed an emphasis on reducing our footprint in meaningful ways to take responsibility for our impact. We’re still exploring new opportunities to see what works best, and in the meantime we’d like to share some of the practices we have implemented with all of you.
In order to reduce the amount of waste leaving our facility, we have implemented mandatory recycling of coffee grounds, filters, and excess brew water. Throughout the average day, we brew massive amounts of coffee, and thus lots of coffee grounds and filters were thrown away. We quickly realized we could quit throwing these materials out and instead compost. One member of our team immediately offered to add the used filters and grounds to his composting pile at home! Additionally, we rinsed every filter before brewing and dumped excess brew water down the drain. Another teammate talked to our neighbor next door who has agreed to use the water for her community flower/herb garden first, over fresh tap water.
In addition to reducing our brewing waste, we found a connection to upcycle our chaff! [Chaff is the dried layer of coffee-honey that clings to green coffee beans. During the roasting process chaff will leave the beans and is collected in our machines.] Instead of throwing this chaff out, a local farmer found that chaff is high in fiber and now incorporates it into the diet for several animals on his farm. We were all delighted to know chaff could be used in such a meaningful way!
Utopian has a culture of avoiding wastefulness in any way possible, partially for environmental reasons and also simply to be pragmatic. Why throw something away when it can be used again and again? There are several ways we reuse materials throughout our facility. One is reusing coffee-sample bags. Rather than trashing the plastic bags after we’ve roasted samples, we save them to reuse for roasted samples later. Quite simple, and just as useful later on!
We have become dedicated contributors to The Rubber Band Box. We receive dozens (if not hundreds) of rubber bands monthly with documents, packages, and packing materials, yet only need maybe a handful for our own use in that time. So we add them to our collection to use around the office or for special projects.
We’ve also taken to storing the burlap bags our green coffee arrives from origin in. We cut up the burlap and send them out with all of our retail orders (so don’t be surprised if you order a bag and get some burlap straight from origin!). They go on tables at trade shows, help us do yard work, and most recently, begun giving burlap to a local beekeeper who uses it in several capacities on his farm.
Sometimes, creativity works best. We produce about 50 sheets of blank paper scraps a day, all the same size. Now, we rubber cement them together on cardboard scraps to make notepads! When in doubt, someone on Wiki-How has already done it and someone in the comments has already perfected it.
Recycling is always the trickiest bit of any sustainability initiative for a couple of reasons. Most mixed-material items aren’t recyclable in the first place since they cost more to recycle than to make new. Additionally, any item with a wax coating or small size (think single-use kitchen utensils) aren’t compatible with recycling machinery. Even “recyclable” plastics are often throw away at the recycling facility itself, and thus 91% of consumer plastics in the US are trashed. So while we do have a comprehensive recycling program, we advocate first reducing and reusing everything we can!
Using upcycled green coffee boxes and GrainPro bags, we established recycling stations by material type in our kitchen, office, and production area. Creating signage was key to communicating what could be recycled. The signs created have example pictures of common-recyclable items, which help us sort things efficiently throughout our day rather than assigning someone the arduous task of sorting it all later. Many of us pack our lunches in reusable containers; facilitating that with proper kitchen facilities and storage can help keep the volume of kitchen recycling manageable.
Some of our green coffee and packaging byproducts are an easy fix too. All the green, plastic GrainPro bags, [which protect green coffee for moisture and the elements during shipping], and cardboard boxes from supply deliveries are all safe to go straight to the recycling facility once we grab what we need for our reuse on-site.
These kinds of solutions are simple to implement with a little effort and open mindedness to opportunities to reduce the waste we send to landfill. If we want to still be sipping our morning coffee 50 years from now, we need to conserve what we can and work passionately to protect the farmers who work everyday to grow our coffee for us.
*Special thanks to Gabby Myrice for taking the initiative to implement sustainable practices!*