Every morning when you wake up, what do you pour into your cup?
For many of us, an early cup (or a few!) of coffee or tea is a daily ritual. But did you know that along with your morning brew, you might also be sipping on a hefty dose of plastic?
A major focus of this Plastic Free July—a global month-long movement to encourage people to engage in solutions to plastic pollution—is the ubiquitous single-use plastic coffee (or tea) cup. So this month we are highlighting why it’s important to cut plastic out of your “morning brew” routine—and we will show you how to do it!
Get Plastic Out of Your Cup
Single-use plastic items, including the cups commonly used to hold coffee and tea, are rarely recycled and instead mainly end up in landfills and the environment, or are incinerated. Plastic pollutes the environment, where it contaminates shared resources such as water and soil, and harms wildlife.
And not only is plastic bad for the planet, it’s bad for our health: Plastic does not break down but instead breaks up into infinitely smaller pieces, which people inadvertently ingest along with food and beverages, inhale when we breathe indoors and outdoors, and absorb through our skin. Plastic pollution disproportionately burdens people of color, rural, and low-income people with toxic pollution.
These plastic particles accumulate in our bodies—including in our bloodstreams—where they leach toxic chemicals known to harm human health, such as phthalates, bisphenols, and UV stabilizers. These toxins are known to cause reproductive harm, neurological damage, and can increase the risk of cancer—among many other ill effects.
Unfortunately, there are many ways plastic particles may be brewing in your coffee or tea. From the cups used to hold beverages bought “to-go,” to the at-home machines and accessories used to make your own brew, plastic may seem unavoidable. But with the right information, you can make choices that minimize your exposure to plastics in your favorite morning beverage.
Choose Reusables Over Single-Use Cups
Do you buy your coffee or tea to go in single-use beverage cups? If you do, you’re ingesting plastic along with your coffee or tea.
Single-use cups are often made of paper on the outside, and inside are lined with a thin coating of plastic meant to insulate your drink and prevent hot liquid from leaking out. Scientists have demonstrated that a 12-ounce paper cup’s plastic lining sheds more than 1.5 trillion tiny plastic particles into the liquid it holds. They found that these tiny toxic plastic particles shed more rapidly when the liquid inside the cup is hot.
Thankfully, many coffee and tea shops are making it easier for customers to bring their own non-plastic (stainless steel, ceramic, glass) reusable cups for refill. Others offer standard ceramic, metal, or glass mugs for use if you can take the time to enjoy your coffee or tea inside the shop, such as PPC Business Member Wild Trails Coffee in BC, Canada. There are also reusable takeaway cups, such as those from PPC Business Member and Earthshot nominee Vessel, which can be returned and reused indefinitely. If you can make your morning brew at home, it’s even easier to choose to reuse!
Some of our favorite non-plastic reusable cups for coffee and tea include:
- Ceramic mugs or ceramic thermoses, such as those made by Soma
- Stainless steel mugs or thermoses, such as those made by PPC Business Members Klean Kanteen or Carry Your Bottle
- All-glass thermoses, such as those made by Tupkee
Make Your Morning Brew Plastic-Free
1. Find plastic-free coffee makers and accessories
Many coffee makers—especially electric automatic models—are now made out of plastic. Plastic is cheap and insulates hot liquids, but these qualities create a toxic tradeoff. Just because the market is flooded with plastic coffee makers does not mean you need to use them.
There are plenty of coffee makers and accessories out there that can help minimize your exposure to plastic. Some may seem expensive to purchase initially. But because they are made with no-to-little plastic, they are long lasting and you will save money in the long run (as long as you take good care of them). Additionally, with a little research, it’s possible to buy these or similar products secondhand or from alternative sources for less than the retail price.
Manual coffee makers that require you to drip, percolate, siphon, press, or pour over are the styles most commonly made of glass and/or stainless steel, helping you to avoid plastic. Some good manual coffee maker and accessory options include:
- Manual stainless steel burr coffee grinders, such as those made by Waldwerk (this is a manual grinder from Germany, ships internationally)
- Electrical stainless steel burr coffee grinders such as those made by Fellow Ode Brew (this electric grinder like most a plastic hopper but the burrs inside are stainless steel)
- Manual ceramic burr coffee grinders, such as those made by Porlex
- Glass pour-over carafes, such as those made by Chemex
- Glass siphons, such as those made by Yama
- Single-cup stainless pour-over brewers, such as those made by Sumptown Coffee Roasters
- Single-cup glass pour-over brewers, such as those made by Pure Over
- Stainless steel and glass french presses, such as those made by Public Goods (most french presses have a small amount of plastic at the seal, which largely does not touch the coffee inside) or Bodum
- All-stainless steel french presses, such as those made by Mueller
- All-stainless steel percolators, such as those made by Farberware
- All-stainless steel stovetop espresso makers, such as those made by Alessi
If you prefer automatic coffee makers and accessories, it’s a bit harder to find plastic-free options since these machines are largely designed with plastic. Even steel espresso machines typically have plastic hosing inside to carry hot water. Drip machines minimize hot water’s contact with plastic. These two automatic options best limit your exposure to plastic by being mostly made of stainless steel and glass:
- Technivorm Moccamaster Coffee Makers
- Bunn All-Stainless Steel Commercial Coffee Maker (need to purchase a glass carafe and stainless funnel to further reduce plastics)
2. Find plastic-free tea brewing tools and accessories
Single-use tea bags may seem to be made of paper. But in reality, the majority of tea bags are made from plastic. With each plastic tea bag you steep, scientists have found that nearly 15 billion plastic particles are released right into your drink. This is a significant number of plastic particles, and concerning, again, given the dangers these particles pose to the environment and our health.
The best way to avoid toxic plastic in your tea is to purchase loose-leaf tea and use fine stainless steel strainers, such as those sold by Package Free. Not only are these strainers simple, but they are also inexpensive and widely available.
You might also consider a ceramic mug-and-strainer combo, such as those made by Euna Living. Plain glass, ceramic, or cast-iron teapots such as those sold by Susteas are also excellent brewing options as long as you avoid painted or enameled options—which may contain toxic cadmium and lead. If you prefer a press-type model, try a brewing pot such as those made by Rishi Tea & Botanicals.
If you want to use tea bags without the toxic plastic, check out reusable organic linen (a fiber from the flax plant) or cotton tea bags, such as those made by Marley’s Monsters or Net Zero Co. Simply place your own loose tea leaves inside, and steep like you would a conventional tea bag (without all the plastic!).
Consider What Goes Inside Your Cup
Once you’ve established your plastic-free coffee or tea routine, the next step is to consider what you’re putting in your cup.
The fast-accelerating climate crisis is making it more challenging to grow coffee and tea, with droughts, flooding, heatwaves, and storms ruining crops and damaging the lands where coffee and tea is grown. For example, Kenya, which grows nearly half of all tea consumed in the UK, is expected to lose more than a quarter of its optimal tea-growing lands by 2050 to climate-related disasters and change. Climate catastrophes also disproportionately harm underserved communities, including groups like women, Indigenous peoples, and low-income people—who often depend on farming crops, including tea and coffee, for their livelihood.
Unfortunately, many people working on coffee and tea farms are mistreated by their employers, and are sometimes forced into labor. What’s more, even when workers are paid for their hard labor (most tea leaves and coffee beans are painstakingly picked by hand), the conditions on these farms commonly range from harsh to inhumane. Some workers have little to no access to adequate water, food, shelter, bathrooms, and other necessities.
Additionally, one must consider the deforestation that goes hand in hand with the expansion of cropland, as well as the rampant application of pesticides and use of plastic in farming coffee and tea. Landscapes have been completely stripped of their natural health by coffee and tea growing—especially in Central and South America, Asia, and Africa, where much coffee and tea is grown—and polluted by pesticides and plastics used in growing.
Being informed about these issues is the first step to making positive change. Speak with your dollars by buying organic, fair-trade coffee beans and loose tea in non-plastic packaging from companies that are transparent about their practices and sourcing. For example, Arbor Teas has a wide selection of ethically sourced, organic teas in non-plastic compostable packaging, and Café Mam offers a selection of organic, fair-trade coffees grown in Chiapas, Mexico, in plastic-free packaging.
Make Today a Plastic-Free Coffee or Tea Day
Thankfully, with the right information, a little planning, and preparation, you can set forward a morning coffee or tea routine free of plastic and toxic chemicals that’s also considerate of the people who picked each bean or leaf in your favorite morning drink.
This Plastic Free July, how will you incorporate reuse as well as health, environmental, and ethical considerations into your daily coffee or tea routine? We hope this blog has given you plenty of ideas for getting started in taking your plastic-free morning routine to the next level.