Q&A.; Eco Coffee for the Office

Q. I'm hoping you can help me out here the company I work for has recently switched to one of those "brew your own cup" types, which requires each drinker to insert a new, non-recyclable-plastic pod into the machine before brewing.  You can imagine how much waste this creates, in an office of over 100 employees. (I'm trying to get them to switch to ceramic mugs instead of paper cups, we'll see how that goes).  So I'd like to recommend a quality coffee brewing system which will instantly brew good coffee in an office environment, without the incredible waste being created with this current machine. Any ideas? Gratefully, Jennifer - a tea drinkerA. Thanks for the question, Jennifer. Let me preface our response by fessing up that I'm not avid java junkie, either. (I'd take an organic banana-soy smoothie any day!) Thus there may be some glaringly obvious points I've missed, though I'm sure the bean cognoscenti among our readers will gleefully fill in any blanks. Firstly Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) in Europe suggests that the two main eco-nasties in the average coffee machine are wasted paper filters and energy consumption. You can get durable, reuseable unbleached cotton or gold plated, stainless steel filters to suit many brands of coffee maker and replace the disposable paper filters. Some brands like de Longi come with permanent filters. Illy, of Italy developed ESE (Easy Serving Expresso) sachets, which are like tea bags for coffee. While biodegradable, they do use paper 'pods', so you may not save much against the filter issue. But you should come out in front on water, energy and cleansers used to clean the 'scale' from a coffee machine. Siemens, amongst others, make machines which switch to an 'energy saver' mode or have an auto turn-off, after filtering. Keurig solve this issue another way by cleverly brewing only single cup at a time — thus matching energy demand to actual need. They also run a Product Service System (PSS), by loaning or renting the machines, instead of selling them. Plunger coffee, while impractical for large offices, performs fine for smaller workspaces, needing only a partnership with an energy efficient kettle. The Natural Resource Defense Council suggest that it's the coffee itself, that is the most important environment consideration. The short answer here is to source (1) organic, (2) shade grown, (3) fair traded coffee. Finding all three in the one package is thankfully getting easier. Grounds for Change and Peace Coffee are just two offering such coffee. (NB: Peace Coffee have a tsunami relief campaign to assist the farmers in Sumatra, who were growing some of their beans.) Read the NRDC report and spread the word among your work colleagues on why such a purchasing decision is so significant. Drinking less would be a great result too, but now we are moving on to having stimulating, enjoyable, fulfilling employment and that is a whole nuvver discussion. Well, Jennifer, hope these musings help some. Keep up the ceramic cup quest. [by WM]