Am I damaging the planet with my coffee habit?

Be warned: This episode may change your coffee drinking habits forever! Jools and Scott answer the question: What's the easiest way to reduce the environmental costs of your coffee?

Okay, so you forgot to take your reusable cup to the cafe. But, how bad is that, really?
What if the reusable cup trend is actually a waste of everyone's time and energy?

Jools and Scott answer the question: what's the easiest way to massively reduce the environmental costs of your coffee?

We speak with Tim Ridley of United Baristas to understand what should we actually be measuring in the first place? Marine pollution? Land waste? Carbon footprint?

We also hop on the line with Toby Weedon of Oatly to get the lowdown on cows' milk and just why exactly it generates so much CO2. And no, it's not the farts!

Be warned: this episode may change your coffee drinking habits forever.

You can support the show by supporting our wonderful sponsors!
Discover how much CO2 is produced in each litre of Oatly compared to cow's milk:
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Read up on coffee's environmental impact at United Baristas:


Jools Walker: Welcome to adventures in coffee, a podcast by caffeine magazine, sponsored by Oatly and iFinca.
Scott Bentley: Yes. In this six episode series, Jools and I are exploring the world of coffee for those that, you know, maybe you're a bit curious about what goes into your daily cup.
Jools Walker: Now we're all becoming more and more invested in where our food and drink comes from.So we made this podcast to try and demystify the complicated world of coffee and definitely try and have a laugh along the way.
Scott Bentley: We're all going to get in our virtual jetliners, which don't exist. We're going to go around the world and speak to some experts and answer those questions that you and I have always wanted to ask
Jools Walker: now I'm Jools Walker, a very proud East Londoner, a cycling advocate, who's been around for some time and you're very everyday coffee lover.
Scott Bentley: You are the least East end woman.
Jools Walker: I know.
Scott Bentley:  It's so posh.
Scott Bentley: I am Scott Bentley. I'm the founder of caffeine magazine. I've been told by many people that are a bit of a coffee nerd.
Jools Walker: Now, in today's episode, we're going to talk about how to be more environmentally conscious with our coffee choices.
Scott Bentley: Oh, Jools this is going to be boring. No
Jools Walker: No, no. It's not gonna be boring at all.
Scott Bentley: Yeah. We all know this stuff can come across sometimes as maybe a bit dense, boring, or even really important, but it may not need to be that way. It can be a bit simpler.
Jools Walker: The idea for this episode came from a little debate that we had the other day when it comes to coffee cups. Um, maybe we should discuss that.
Scott Bentley: Yeah, Jools, so I just got to a cafe. I was talking to you about this great coffee that I just had. And you asked me, did I have a reusable cup? And I rather guiltily said, no, it was in a disposable cup because I'd forgotten it left in the dishwasher, and you let us say derated me quite heavily for it.Now, before we get into this, I got this feeling that by using this disposable cup, you are putting the world's woes on my shoulders. It was like, you know, this cup that I'd use was going to get thrown on the truck, you know, he's got a full off go down a river somewhere, some poor penguin was going to get this stuck in his throat and I will be responsible for them death of a penguin.
Jools Walker: Oh, we will, we will fight for you surprised at how emotional we got, but it did get us thinking what is actually the best way to be environmentally conscious with our coffee choices. I mean, You know, there's that whole issue of how bad is a disposable cup? Is it really that terrible? What if that whole thing is actually just a massive red herring?
Scott Bentley: Um, I think for me, what we need to understand are what makes a big difference and what makes a small difference and understanding those things means that we can focus on those things that make the biggest difference.
Jools Walker: Exactly. But in all of this, the first question that we should be asking is, what are we actually measuring here?I mean, should we be discussing like carbon footprint? Are we discussing the issue of landfill here? Is this coming down to Marine pollution, taking us back to those poor penguins again? I mean, how do we actually begin to frame this whole conversation?
Scott Bentley: I think this is a good time to cut to a conversation that I had with Tim Ridley from United baristas.He's someone that's written about ecology issues for a long time, and probably has the best understanding of anyone that I know of these issues.
Jools Walker: But before we get to that conversation, Scott let's have a word from our sponsors.

[Sponsorship music starts]
Scott Bentley: Jools we, should you talk about greenwashing? What does it actually mean?
Jools Walker: Well, greenwashing is making unsubstantiated environmental claims. Isn't it?
Scott Bentley: Absolutely. I'm not saying false claims. They're just claims that can't be verified. And I know that, you know, greenwashing does happen quite a lot in coffee. Jools Walker: Yeah. But it's not just environmental claims. Is it? I mean, roasters say all the time that they pay their farmers well, but who's actually checked it. And how well, is well?
Scott Bentley: Of course, I mean, a roaster can solve this though by getting their coffee iFinca verified,
Jools Walker: So if you want truly transparent coffee, ask your roaster to get their coffee. iFinca verified.
[Sponsorship music ends]

Tim Ridley: Scott. Hey, how are you? What's happening?
Scott Bentley: Yeah, I'm good, mate. All right. So, as I mentioned in my email, uh, Jools and I are exploring the ecological impact of our coffee choices. Now you have a website called United baristas that does many things for the barista community, including like a marketplace where people can sell coffee related goods.But one of the things on there is, uh, a section of your blog, where you look at the environmental impact of our coffee. So can you quickly fill in our listener on that?
Tim Ridley: I seemed only natural several years ago to start thinking about actually, what is coffee's carbon footprint and how can we reduce it? And basically I just read a whole bunch of scientific papers and made contact with a bunch of scientists and ask them some questions about what they were looking into. And so what we've done is we've summarized that information and turn them into some articles on United baristas to, I guess, help educate the coffee industry about just what their impacts are, but more importantly, how they can actually reduce them in the coming time.
Scott Bentley: Okay, Tim, look, I was looking at your website the other day and I saw two blog posts on there, which was pretty bleak to be frank. One of them,
Tim Ridley: my website, United barista's website. Isn't bleak, like take that back. It's full of hope and optimism. Just also maybe some like hard truths about where we're at and where we've got to get to.
Scott Bentley: Well, okay. Maybe it's just the headlines, which sent a cold shiver down my spine. One of them was how reusable cups can't save the world.
Tim Ridley: No. Like if, like, if you didn't take your reasonable cup today, like it's a little bit bad, but like a really, really tiny little bit bad. So like we know from some studies that all the emissions that come from the growing and the shipping and the roasting, then the takeout cup components about 5%. So it's not actually that much at all.
Scott Bentley: All right I hear you. Can you tell me then about what we're going to do about all these cups are just going to like sit in landfill
Tim Ridley: What, this is a couple of different things going on with waste, right. So I guess the very first thing to think about is that humans are really good at noticing like visual waste.Like we don't like paper bags on the ground and we don't like coffee cups on the ground and we don't like cigarette butts. And so we tend to think of those things first and foremost, which has always, when we think about like environmental issues, we often think about the things that are like often, really small and highly visible because those are a part of our day-to-day life or like, it's really not great, but also countries have lots of different solutions for dealing with landfill.So some just actually incinerate it and create energy from it. And in terms of like the lesser of various evils, which is kind of where we're at with a number of different environmental issues right now, because climate change is so pressing, actually we're primarily interested in what, some of the key environmental measures are how much CO2 does it produce?What's the deforestation impact and how much Marine pollution is there. So on all of those fronts, there's often quite a strong sync between the carbon footprint in those other measures as well. So I understand that take out cups often littered, and that really annoys people, but actually the disposal of them, isn't a massive issue.
Scott Bentley: Well, you're basically saying is that waste is a problem, and it's not something that we should ignore, and the major issue here is CO2 because that's, what's contributing to climate change and we need to get a handle on that, first.
Tim Ridley: Climate change is like the number one issue for maybe both the environment, but also for humanity.I think one of the things that we often talk about, like climate change and the abstract, like. Oh, dear. It will be really bad, like when the world ends because of climate change and we don't actually think through the logical repercussion that actually like, this is our home. And actually climate change is really, really bad for humanity.
Scott Bentley: Okay, I get it. Climate change is attached to the amount of carbon we use. So how do I, how do I consume better? What's uh, what things can I do that are gonna make a real difference?
Tim Ridley: So, if you kind of like to take broad brush strokes, like say a flat white or a latte in the UK has a, has a footprint of around about 250 grams of CO2 to it, and actually.
Scott Bentley: Well, the weight, the weight of 250 grams, like it like a bag of coffee is 250 grams at weighs, 250 grams.
Tim Ridley: Yeah, correct. There's like 250 grams of like carbon floating around in the atmosphere from when you drink a coffee. Like it's just, it's it's incredible, in fact.
Scott Bentley: Wow. I mean, that's, I mean, I drink what? I don't know, three, four cups of coffee a day. Am I am I'm making like a key low of carbon.
Tim Ridley: It depends what coffee you're actually having.Like with your, having a black coffee or they're having a filter coffee or whether you're having a latte, because actually like, say for example, that 250 grand figure actually around about two thirds or three quarters of that is caused through the milk production, the DRA that goes into your cup. So the primary cause of coffee's carbon footprint is actually milk. And there's a whole bunch of things you can do to cut it. So you should probably have a chat with someone who's actually knows all the ins and outs of what the carbon footprint is.
Scott Bentley: Okay, I hear what you're saying here, but you know, surely this isn't all about me. It's norm it's not my fault. There must be loads of carbon, which is being used to kind of make this crop, you know, to fertilize it, to like stick it on a ship that is, there must be loads of carbon in that it can't all just be down to me.
Tim Ridley: Really around about say like 20, 25% of a coffee's carbon footprint comes from the coffee growing and from its production origin and from the exporting process and including the shipping to country here then around about say like 5% or something like that is a result of the roasting of the coffee by far and away.The biggest point of carbon emissions is the coffee making itself, the electricity used to be able to use a coffee making machine with that espresso machine or a brewer or something like this. And that's typically over 50% of a coffee's carbon footprint excluding the milk. So I think maybe the best way to look at it from my perspective is that the majority of the carbon emissions caused by us coffee drinkers, and yet actually the, the key challenges that coffee farmers are facing, uh, caused by climate change, which is a result of our coffee, drinking habit. So it really falls to us to be able to make the changes, to be able to reduce coffee's carbon footprint.
Scott Bentley: Oh, Tim. So I hear what you're saying, but give me like three things that I can do to, to be better, so I'm not killing the penguins.
Tim Ridley: I've seen penguins by the way, they smell really, really bad.
Scott Bentley: Okay. Fine.
Tim Ridley: Yeah, there’s so much we can do as coffee drinkers. Like I think the first thing is it's really tempting to overfill your jug at home when you make coffee. So because the electricity required to heat that water is a really significant part of coffee's carbon footprint.You need to fill your jug with just enough water to be able to make your cup of coffee. And of course, that goes for a cup of tea as well. You know, like just boil what you need no more when you're buying coffee. It's best to buy coffee that's from a local roaster so that you can actually reduce the carbon emissions from the shipping, or be able to get like shipping with a CO2 neutral delivery company or something like this.Coffee's carbon footprint skyrockets. When we start air shipping coffees around the world, once they're roasted.
Scott Bentley: Are you telling me then that I can't why I shouldn't be ordering coffee from the Netherlands and from like Australia and Germany, I mean, there's some great roasters out there.
Tim Ridley: If you want to do that, then I think the challenge falls to you to be able to find other ways within either your coffee, drinking habit or within your lifestyle to be able to cut your carbon emissions elsewhere. So I guess for me, importing coffees from foreign roasters is something that I've cut out of my coffee drinking habit, and I don't miss it at all because coffee is so well established that there's really great roasters now in every local market, and so it's a real joy to be able to explore the coffee roasters from around the country.
Scott Bentley: Tim, these reusable cups. I mean, I've probably got far too many. They're all different. I mean, someone made a metal, some made a glass, some are like really flimsy plastic, you know, which one's better?
Tim Ridley: So, what you can do is scientists can work out the embodied carbon in each of these cups, and so they can work out what the break even is like how many times would you need to use that cup in order for it to be better than using a, say a takeout cup or a ceramic cup? So a plain plastic coffee cup that's made from like PP plastic.Then you've got to need to use that probably like 20, 25 times for it to be better than a paper take out cup and lid.
Scott Bentley: That's easy.
Tim Ridley: What happens is that when you start cups that are made of like mixed materials, so they're made of say plastic and metal or it's double-walled metal, then actually the number of users goes up dramatically.So for some of the metal cups that are double-walled, you're talking of uses that are four or five, six, even 800 times in order for them to be able to break even with a paper cup. So I think one of the really important things is that if you decide to get a reusable takeout cup, all that carbon has been spent, like you have to use it in order to be able to get the environmental benefit. So, if you’ve got one in the back of your cupboard, like you need to get it out and you need to use it till it's completely spent. Otherwise you're actually doubling up on your carbon footprint, cause you've got that reusable cup and you're using takeout cups.
Tim Ridley: Hey, thanks very much, Scott. It's good as always to talk.
Scott Bentley: Thanks very much, much appreciated mate, take care.
Tim Ridley: Thank you the, you too. Ciao, bye-bye.

Scott Bentley: Jools, I don't know how you feel about that interview. I kind of feel both as a mountain to climb, but we've had some answers.
Jools Walker: I find it fair, like I'm edging towards saving the world properly.
Scott Bentley: For me, there was kind of three big takeaways. I mean, the first one is if you have a reusable cup, just bloody use it, don't leave at the back of the cupboard.
Jools Walker: All right. Well, you know, we're both guilty of having more than one reusable cup, you know? Oh, are we supposed to be using these things until they're actually like disintegrating in our hands? Like they're dead.
Scott Bentley: Till they’re literally leaking in your bag,
Jools Walker: Oh no, I feel kinda cheeky about the, uh, the way that I was berating you earlier on about this because I’ve got three that are made of plastic and one that's made of cork and glass. So if I do some very quick maths on that, I think I need to use them probably every day for at least next two years before I actually get the carbon back on these bad boys?
Scott Bentley: Yeah
Jools Walker: you know, the, the other takeaway that I got from that conversation was about the water.Now I kick myself because I'm guilty of this as well, but you should only really boil as much water as you need.
Scott Bentley: Yeah. So the last thing for me, and again, seems really, really obvious, buy local. So I mean, we always say buy local, but why do we say buy local? Because those transport costs are so carbon intensive.
Jools Walker: Now we have these brilliant takeaways that we got from that conversation that you had, but there is still quite a big elephant in the room and that is about our milk consumption.
Scott Bentley: A big white elephant.
Jools Walker: So in your conversation with Tim, he mentioned how big a deal milk is when it comes to coffees, carbon footprint.So I went off and had a chat with Oatley about. Where the hell all of this carbon actually comes from and what kind of impact switching milks can actually have. So let's cut away from the elephants and cut to that.

Toby Weedon: Jools, hello!
Jools Walker: Hi, Toby! Thanks so much for taking my call today.
Toby Weedon: Yeah, no problems.
Jools Walker: So Toby, before we jump into the carbon footprint of milk for the benefit of our listener, would you mind telling us a bit about yourself?
Toby Weedon: I'm from Cornwall. I'm a Cornish boy, I'm in South London, I've been in and around coffee for nearly 10 years. Everyone at Oatly kind of calls me Mr. Coffee, Mr. Beans.
Jools Walker: So Toby let's jump into things. Now, Scott had a chat with Tim Ridley and found out that 70% of carbon in a latte comes from just the milk. And you know, that made me wonder, why is there so much carbon in cow's milk?
Toby Weedon: Yeah, I mean, the cow is a really inefficient way of taking source grains and then turning them into milk, because the cows kind of primary useful, the food that it consumes is to sustain itself.So what you're doing with livestock is you're growing food for the animal you're then feeding the animal and then there's energy lost through kind of the animals surviving and reproducing and growing and kind of wandering around the farm, and then you're, you're looking to extract the calories from the animals.So you have to put a lot into the animal to get very little out. I think it's like for every 100 calories that you put into an animal, you only get about 17 useful calories out. So, what Oatly does is, is kind of shortcut the cow from the system, and by doing that, you remove so much of that carbon within that process, and by removing the cow from the system and replacing it with an Oatly factory, you can cut the amount of carbon liter for liter by around 73% in the UK.
Jools Walker: Okay. So I'm still a bit baffled because I just imagine that it's just some, some grain that's being been grown out of the earth. That's just going to get, put into a cow, like a cow's going to eat that, but then that still results in so much carbon emission. Why would that be the case? Why is there so much from just that the cow eating the grain?
Toby Weedon: Mm. So in both instances for Oatly, or for the cow, you're growing grain and in the growth of that grain, you'll generate in carbon through the farming process.
Jools Walker: Okay, Toby, this might seem like a silly question or a thought that I've got to get out of my head, but I'm just imagining all of these plants, you know, that they're growing in the earth, they're doing their thing and they're taking all of that carbon in. Surely. That's a good thing, I'm just trying to imagine how, these plants growing up out of the earth are actually spitting the carbon back out.
Toby Weedon: When you're growing plants at a commercial level, you need all kinds of like fertilizers and you need to plow the land. And there's all of that machinery, everything that's kind of associated with the actual farming itself, all that creates carbon.And to then take that grain and turn it into. Oat milk. You don't need anywhere near as much grain as you do to feed to the cow to produce the cow's milk. The other thing with the cow as well is, is the cow is also producing methane throughout its living life, so that methane is also having a massive impact.
Jools Walker: Is the, the, the real problem are we just drilling this down to the fact that cows fart too much as well?
Toby Weedon: The farting thing is a slight misconception. It's actually, they're burping. There's the front that you need to be more cautious though.
Jools Walker: I just would have assumed it was the emission coming from the back.
Toby Weedon: Is the fermentation that leads to the burping. There is also methane coming out of the other end, but the majority is coming out of the mouth, yeah.
Jools Walker: All right, so bearing in mind how much of a carbon footprint, certain things leave. Wouldn't you say that anything that you add to a cup of coffee is going to add more carbon to it? So we should just all be drinking black coffee in instead, like no one should be having any form of milk whatsoever in their coffee and just, just have it like that. Would that help? Would that solve things?
Toby Weedon: Yeah, I mean, you could argue that we should just kind of stop consuming everything, but that's not necessarily going to be a solution that works for many people, and I think it's about choice. So the choice is if you want that kind of the flat white or the cappuccino or the latte, something that is rich and creamy and steamed and comforting black coffee, just doesn't quite hit that same spot. So you can have the choice. You can still have the thing that you're looking for. It just has a much lower climate impact than the original version.
Jools Walker: So this leads me to wonder, uh, where can our listeners go to figure out the carbon footprint of the milks and the foods they consume?
Toby Weedon: Yeah, we've done a massive kind of campaign over the last couple of years where we've published our sustainability report and put everything that we do at the good, the bad, the ugly all into one place for, for people to read.So for a liter of Oatley, we produce 0.44 kilograms of CO2 equivalent emissions. Which is interesting until you then think, like, what does that actually mean? And that's kind of the big issue that we're kind of facing is that consumers like you this morning with Scott, you were looking to, looking to try and make the most sustainable choice, but you don't necessarily have access to the information that you need at that kind of point of purchase.And I think that's kind of the big thing is that, that currently there isn't that transparency and we're trying to drive forward that transparency with what we're doing around our own kind of carbon labeling on our packs.
Jools Walker: All right, Toby, thank you so much for taking the time out to have a chat with me and educating me and our dear listener about this today, really appreciate it.
Toby Weedon: Thank you so much. Cheers. Bye bye.
Jools Walker: Take care, bye

Scott Bentley: Jools
Jools Walker: Scott
Scott Bentley: Thank you for coming on this journey with me. Before we did this, I couldn't really see the wood for the trees. I was, I knew there was things that I should be doing and things that I could be doing, and I was bombarded with so many marketing messages about what I should do and how, but really we should be focusing on the easiest things that makes the biggest difference, first.
Jools Walker: Exactly simple steps that we can take are right there in front of us. So for example, Use your reusable cup until it is falling apart, get the most out of it.
Scott Bentley: Absolutely. Literally boil as much water as you need.
Jools Walker: And buy local. It's it's right there, you don't have to travel the world in the sense of getting that coffee is right on your doorstep. That is a choice you can make. Scott Bentley: Absolutely. And if you can go easy on the dairy, then that's a good thing. Switch it up occasionally. You know, I think you said to me once, uh, milk free Mondays or something like that, whatever.
Jools Walker: Yes! Just look for things like that. And the other thing to take away from this journey as well is that we, the drinkers, we’re the ones that are responsible for most of coffee's carbon footprint, that's out there.And that ends up effecting the farmers big time. So the more carbon that's produced, the bigger impact that's gonna have on climate change. And then in turn that makes life even harder for the coffee farmers. But we, as the individuals, all have the power to be able to change this. So destiny is quite literally in our hands to make a difference
Scott Bentley: Jools
Jools Walker: Yes, Scott?
Scott Bentley: Is it time for the credits?J
ools Walker:
I think it is.

Jools Walker:
This podcast was produced by James Harper, the creator of the coffee podcast, Filter Stories
Scott Bentley: That talented man wrote and also played the piano music. Now, if you want more information, we put links to Tim Ridley's CO2 articles on United baristas and Oatly’s 2021 sustainability report in the show notes.
Jools Walker: Now, if you like the show, please subscribe on your podcast app. You can also help others find the show by leaving a review on Apple podcasts or cost box. Scott Bentley: You can follow caffeine magazine on Instagram at caffeine mag. You can follow Jools at lady Velo and James Harper at Filter Stories podcast.
Jools Walker: Oh, and if you show me yours, I'll show you mine.Why don't you send us a picture of your reusable cup collection?
Scott Bentley: In the next episode, we're tackling the biggest head scratch over them all... certifications
Stuart Ritson: Because they have this graded system where you can be not achieving all those goals, but just the bare minimum and get the certificate, or you can be doing a huge amount and get the same certificate it's hard to say which farms are doing what, where's the most impact taking place?
Jools Walker: What do they all mean? And which should you be choosing? Should you choose any of them are all?
Scott Bentley: Uh, I like bird friendly personally
Jose: Certifications are more for middleman that actually like the benefit that can give to the farmer.
Scott Bentley: You can find out more episodes of the show, wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you very much for listening and we'll speak to you next time.