Tag Archives: one small thing

One Small Thing: Coffee Filters

 

In this series I am highlighting one small change you can make to your daily routine or one small thing you can do to make the world a little less wasteful. Don’t miss the previous posts about cloth napkins, handkerchiefs, water bottles, straws, and travel mugs.

Today we are continuing the caffeine chat with: Coffee Filters

This includes regular-sized coffee pot filters, as well as Keurig-style pod cups.

one small thingone small thing

A Brief History of Coffee Filters

As the story goes, all coffee used to be brewed the same way as Turkish coffee insists on being brewed: hot and dark and with the grounds still in the finished drink. This often led to an unpleasant taste and gritty texture.

One day, a housewife decided she was tired of chewing her morning drink. She tried a few different items around the house and found that her son’s blotting paper and a copper pot with holes put in it were the perfect combination for getting the black gold liquid without the gross solids.

And thus, the filter was born.

Through the years we have improved and refined filters based on material type, thickness, and adding ruffles. Those variegated sides help the liquid flow better, and the thickness and grade of paper determines how finely it can filter.

There are even filters made from a far wider array of materials than wood pulp, such as metal, bamboo, even gold.

What Are Coffee Filters Made Of?

Let’s imagine that at least one of those 2.7 cups of coffee per day consumed by 150 million Americans is made at home. That means at least 150 million coffee filters are used per day. And probably at least 149.9 million of those are tossed into the trash, destined for the landfill.

Every day.

coffee filter

Enter the Keurig

Coffee was chugging along, enjoying a slow but steady rise in popularity, when along came an invention that shot it to meteoric fame in homes and offices alike.

Yes, the Keurig.

Originally founded in 1992, Keurig launched its office brewers and line of products in 1998. As the single-serve brewer gained popularity among our instant gratification, everyone-is-unique culture, the Keurig became a household name and expanded for home use in 2004.

Green Mountain Coffee bought the Keurig company and brand in 2006, and business boomed for both through that partnership.

Several more acquisitions and mergers later and they are now part of the Keurig Doctor Pepper brand, and is now “a publicly traded conglomerate which is the third largest beverage company in North America.[

And of course, I must step up onto my soap box for a moment to lambast the Keurig k-cup, or pod, or whatever you want to call this insidious piece of single use plastic crap.

An estimated one in three homes has a Keurig brewer, and the company is on pace to sell over three billion cups per year.

That’s a sh*t-ton of plastic.

Even the inventor of the K-cup says he sort of regrets it… and he doesn’t even own a Keurig machine, saying “They’re kind of expensive to use”.

There’s been much backlash against the waste produced, even to the point of a YouTube video entitled “Kill the K-Cup” which dramatizes the damage it is doing and ends with “Kill the K-Cup before it kills our planet”.

<iframe src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/116606409″ width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

When the patents expired, tons of knockoff brewers and cups flooded the market, many of which are better choices based on being recyclable, compostable, or reusable.

Though thank goodness, they are finally trying to change the composition of the cup such that the material is more attractive to recyclers and thus can be diverted for re-use rather than sent to landfills worldwide.

 

How Can You Do Better?

If you use a paper/bamboo filter, compost it

The first point is that most coffee filters are totally compostable! Yes, most are made of paper, and you can toss them into a compost pile or bin, coffee grounds included. The coffee grounds will provide a great source of nitrogen to your plants, while the filter itself will provide some great carbon.

 

Consider re-usable filters

Next, consider a re-useable coffee filter. I bought myself this one, and use it every day. Each night I dump the spent grounds into my compost bin, give it a quick rinse, and restock with fresh grounds for the next day. Easy peasy. I will probably never have to buy another filter in my life! How awesome is that.

We also have 2 sets of these reusable Keurig cups, which hubs uses in his home office, and I took one to work as well. They fit in most Keurig-style coffee makers, but make sure you read the full list in the product description to make sure yours is one with which it is compatible.

 

Another Option: the French Press

A French Press is a (usully) glass container into which you pour raw grounds and hot water to let it steep. It has a filter attached to a pump / handle that you simply press down, and it filters out the grounds. You then pour out your hot coffee, leaving the solids behind. A quick rinse of the press, and you’re good to go.

If it’s just you, try a small 1L size press, or if you have a big thirst or multiple java fiends try the larger 12 cup version. The press is reusable for many many years, and some say even makes a better tasting, less bitter brew, since it doesn’t soak in any oils from the grounds the way a paper filter does.

Can’t Forget My Tea Drinkers!

Oh yes, don’t think just because you don’t get your caffeine from coffee that I’ve forgotten about you. If you morning caffeine hit comes from a nice hot cuppa Earl Grey or a London Fog, this still applies to you.

If you already use only loose-leaf tea with a filter of some sort, then thank you, and feel free to tune out.

Filters and french presses can definitely be used for tea just as easily as coffee grounds. And they can be just as impactful on the environment. In fact, individual tea bags are responsible for several thousands of tons of non-biodegradable waste.

Though like filters, most are made from paper, least 20-30 percent are made from non-recyclable and non-compostable materials. And even the paper kind rarely gets put into a compost pile, most just end up tossed in the trash bin.

Then there are the foil or plastic or plastic-lined packets that some individual bags are further wrapped in, the boxes that are plastic wrapped, the little metal staple that holds the tag on the bag… you get the picture.

Step 1: If you must have individual tea bags, then at least read up on your favorite companies about their production line. Learn which companies have better or worse practices, and maybe switch. Choose tagless, natural sourced bags with minimal packaging.

Step 2: When you use tea bags, compost them! If you don’t have a pile and don’t want to start one, see if there are any local gardens, community gardens, or schools that will take them. Most gardeners won’t turn down extra, free compost materials.

Step 3: Graduate to loose leaf! The bonus is that it is usually far cheaper per pound versus bagged since you don’t have to pay the “processing fee” of bagging and packaging them. You can also get creative a make your own mixes. Go ahead and put a teaspoon each of green tea, spearmint, and chamomile in a cup, you crazy lady you. And then use a filter, steeper, or French press. And compost the leaves, too!

 

Reasons you should consider reusable filters:
  • Saves you money
  • Saves you time – never shop for filters again
  • Saves you hassle – no more forgetting to pick up a new pack of filters at the store and having to buy to-go coffee or -gasp- go without
  • Saves the planet – keep hundreds of pounds of plastic waste out of the landfills

And now that you have your delicious, hot cup of low-waste coffee, don’t forget to put it in your own to-go mug!

 

 

How do you get your caffeine fix?

One Small Thing: Travel Mugs

 

In this series I am trying to highlight changes or swaps you can make in your day to day living to decrease your waste production and/or use of plastics. These things are not difficult, nor time consuming, nor expensive (nay in most cases they will save you money).

Just try One Small Thing at a time and see if it works for you.

And then try something else. And something else, and it becomes your new normal. And before you know it you can live low waste, stop contributing to landfills and polluting the ocean, and save oodles of cash year after year.

Today we will talk about an easy one: Travel Mugs.

one small thing: reusable coffee mugs

In today’s consumerist go-go-go culture, it seems our collective lifeblood is at least 90% caffeine.

The average U.S. coffee drinker consumes 2.7 cups of coffee per day, with the average size of a coffee cup measuring 9 ounces.

In total, approximately 150 million Americans drink 400 million cups of coffee per day — or more than 140 billion cups per year — making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world.

And though coffee makes up 3/4 of all caffeinated beverage consumption, we indulge in our fair share of tea and hot cocoa as well (source1 & source2).

one small thing: reusable coffee mugs

That’s a lotta joe!

And there is growing demand in developing nations as well, as China, India, and more attempt to lead increasingly Westernized lifestyles.

The biggest suppliers are Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia (source 4). I know at least a few of those surprised me. Worldwide, we devour more than 121.5 million bags (60kg each, that 7.2 billion kg!) of coffee (source 5) and about 3 million tons of tea every year (source 6), with consumption of both rising.

This is in no way saying we should drink less caffeine!

I’m as addicted as anyone else, nearly nonfunctional without at least one cup of coffee by 10 am. I’ve even gotten to the point where I drink it black.

I’m so metal.

Just kidding, I avoid cream and also I’m cheap frugal. 🙂

one small thing: reusable coffee mugs

The problem is not the coffee.

The problem is not the tea.

The problem is the plastic-lined paper cups.

Literal mountains of them.

We throw away literally Billions of paper cups per year. Yes, most are made from recycled paper, which is great, and many companies even use that in their marketing.

But what they neglect to shout about is the fact that those recycled paper cups would totally leak burning hot liquid onto customers, without the dirty little secret inside.

“Though they are made largely of paper, disposable coffee cups are lined with plastic polyethylene, which is tightly bonded to the paper making the cups waterproof and therefore able to contain liquid.

In addition, the difficulty of recycling coffee cups is increased by the fact they are contaminated with drink. This means cups cannot be recycled at standard recycling plants, and must instead be taken to special facilities” (source 7).

In fact, less than 1% of all paper drink cups actually end up recycled.

Why is it so hard to give up this white cylinder of java?

Why You’re Still Not Bringing a Reusable Mug for Your Daily Coffee

To summarize the above article:

  1. Convenience – no one wants to have to remember a mug and carry it around all day
  2. Social status – carrying that white cup tells the world “I’m important and busy so I need coffee, and only the best and only the most convenient will do”
  3. 10 cents back for bringing your own doesn’t work – “Consumers are much more motivated to avoid a fine than to take advantage of a reimbursement, according to numerous behavioral economics studies (like this one). ” (source 8)

Walking around with a white mug can be just a simple way to get your java fix on the go, but it also has become a big part of our culture. The local coffee shop is a place to meet with friends, to catch up, for business meetings, or for focusing & working remotely.

The to-go mug signals that you are a part of the “busy professional” part of society. Even if you think that social cues don’t affect you, trust me, they do.

one small thing: reusable coffee mugs

So what’s a conscious consumer to do?

I’m definitely on board with bringing your own, obviously. That goes for water bottles and napkins and utensils too. Preparation is step one to success.

Just find yourself a mug, preferably insulated, that has a lid. Toss that into your purse, car, or gym bag. And then when you need some hot tea or coffee, you’re all set!

They are re-usable over and over and over, and usually just require a quick rinse between uses. Run them through a dishwasher every now and then too.

Mugs / tumblers come in tons of cute colors, patterns, materials, with reusable straws, and in different sizes to suit any need.

You can even use a mason jar! No kidding. Maybe get iced coffee though, since heat will transfer through the glass.

Oh, and you’ll probably also get a small discount

But, I’m definitely guilty of forgetting things.

Like, daily.

So another idea that has been proposed, and I think is a fantastic one, is a well-established mug exchange program, with branded, eye-catching tumblers.

This could be just among one chain, a local joint, or many coffee shops all throughout a campus or a city.

It would require a small ‘membership fee’ to get the first mug. Then you can drink it there, or take it to go. There would have to be a simple way to maintain membership status signaling, perhaps through a reusable lid you keep between cups.

Then the mugs can be returned to be washed at any other participating location.

Imagine how many paper cups could be saved!

This would also solve the problem of inconsistent mug sizes. If the menu only has prices for 10, 12, or 16 ounces but your mug is 9 or 24 ounces, how is the barista to ring you up? If the mugs were standard, that is no longer a problem.

You still get the convenience of having it to-go, if it is the tall, insulated ceramic type of mug.

And you still have the convenience of multiple locations.

Over time, as this became more accepted and became the social norm, this concept of reusable mugs would become the top social class, and reuse would be something to be proud of, to get all your friends on board with, and to brag about.

 

Want to learn about more Small Things you can do? Read up on cloth napkins, handkerchiefs, no more straws, and water bottles.

 

 

Are you on board the reusable cup train? Or do you find it annoying, inconvenient, or other thoughts?

One Small Thing – Water Bottles

 

In this series, I am highlighting one small thing you can change in your daily life and habits that add up to a plastic free world. Don’t forget to read up on cloth handkerchiefs and cloth napkins too. We as a species have a long way to go, but each tiny step in the right direction brings us closer to the goal.

Today, we are beating this dead horse: Water Bottles.

Unless you live under a rock, you know all about this. You’ve heard it a million times, seen it a million times.

Plastic is everywhere.

And none is moreso ubiquitous than plastic water bottles.

By the way, when I say water bottle, I also mean any other single use plastic bottled beverage. Sodas, lemonade, iced tea, sports drinks. They all come in plastic, and they are all part of the problem.

The numbers are pretty dire.

“Annual consumption of plastic bottles is set to top half a trillion by 2021, far outstripping recycling efforts and jeopardising oceans, coastlines and other environments” (Source: the Guardian)

plastic water bottles on a table

Think about everywhere you may have been offered or used a plastic water bottle.

  • Your office or work place
  • At a conference
  • A kids sports event
  • At a play or musical
  • Moving day
  • Lecture halls
  • On vacation
  • On a hike
  • At a lake
  • Camping
  • Potlucks
  • Barbeques
  • Office meetings
  • Retirement party
  • Birthday party
  • Wedding shower
  • Baby shower
  • On a plane
  • In an airport
  • At an amusement park
  • An aquarium
  • At the zoo
  • Skating rink
  • Soccer stadium
  • Baseball stadium
  • Football stadium
  • Hockey rink (you get the point)
  • Family holidays
  • At a friends’ house
  • At your house?!?

With the exception of times when local municipal water is honestly not safe to drink, there is absolutely no excuse to drink bottled water rather than tap water in your own home.

If this is your situation, then by all means drink from bottles. Water is hella important to the staying alive thing, and I’d far prefer that you drink water than not.

As the daughter of a chemist and director of seven water management facilities, I can tell you that 99% of tap water is perfectly safe to drink. I grew up my whole life drinking tap water.

Is it a taste thing?

Do you not like that water has no flavor? Does your tap water have too much chlorine or other flavor you don’t like?

Get a filter. Add cucumber slices or frozen berries. Squirt in some lemon juice. Invest in a SodaStream to make it fizzy. Hell, buy a few Mios and squirt some in.

No excuses.

And when you are out and about, there is a 90% chance that you can find a tap to refill a bottle, IF you have one. That’s a big if. Just like stocking every bag and car with a reusable cloth bag, why not start putting a reusable bottle there too?

If you have your own bottle, guess what?

That refill is free!

Yes, you can save yourself anywhere from $1 to $5 (depending on the location) by not buying a drink.

And, not use another plastic bottle!

AND, water is WAY healthier for you than any other sweetened, flavored beverage you might buy.

Win win win!

Any plastic, glass, or stainless steel bottle will do. Many colleges, businesses, or sports teams give them out for free. Thrift stores are bursting with reusable bottles for mere dimes. Get yo self a bottle and USE IT.

For the health of it. For the planet. For the financial savings.

SO, repeat this out loud please: I will stop using plastic single-use bottles.

Why?

  • It is 1,000 times cheaper to drink tap water! (Infinity times really because dividing by zero. #maththings)
  • Remembering my own bottle is easy, and will become a new habit.
  • I care about the future of our planet, forests, animals, and oceans!

 

Did I miss any water bottle locations or excuses? Just kidding, pretty sure literally anywhere could go on that list. How do you avoid single use plastic bottles?

Weekly Eating – 8/20/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Over the weekend, I spent some time pulling out diseased squash vines and clearing a corner of the garden. Since there is now space, I also started a big batch of fall seeds!

budget epicurean fall planting seedlings

My library is amazing and has a free seed service, where you can take home up to 4 kinds a few times a year. You can also save seeds and bring them in to share with your fellow Durhamites. I started the 4 from the library and a few from home too, so hopefully I will have beets, turnips, kale, collards, swiss chard, and/or onions in a few weeks.

 

Monday:

Breakfast – smoothie with peaches, bananas, frozen blueberries and flax & amla powder

Lunch – leftover veggie burger + portobello wrapped up in a whole grain wrap with roasted red pepper hummus and sliced veggies

Dinner – This AMAZING egg roll in a bowl from Don’t Waste the Crumbs: https://dontwastethecrumbs.com/2018/03/egg-roll-bowl/

budget epicurean egg roll in a bowl

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I diced up a potato, some mini peppers, grape tomatoes, and sweet potato leaves and cooked them in a frying pan with a lid on for about 15 minutes for a delicious and filling breakfast hash.

budget epicurean breakfast hash

Lunch – Well… I brought leftover egg roll in a bowl. But I forgot that Tuesday is now my busiest day, and I rarely am at my desk between 10 and 2 anymore. So I was starving, and couldn’t wait long enough, and succumbed to Starbucks (the closest semi-healthy option).

budget epicurean emergency starbucks lunch

I felt so much guilt for the $8.50 spent, as well as the plastic container. I’m hoping this makes me remember next week to pack a lunch that can be portable at room temp. I intend to re-use the package at least a few times.

Snack – hummus and veggies

Dinner – I diced up oodles of veggies: squash, zucchini, bell peppers, white corn, and red onion, and mixed it with 1 cup of quinoa and 1 cup of water. Then I baked it at 350 for about an hour, stirring once. The result was an amazing summer one pan dinner.

budget epicurean quinoa summer veggie casserole

I also had another big batch of leftover old bread slices and ends, so while the oven was on anyways I roasted the bread too, and then pulsed it in my food processor to make bread crumbs. Waste not want not right?

Wednesday:

Breakfast – homemade bread with peanut butter and fruit

budget epicurean toast and fruit

Lunch – leftover egg roll in a bowl with rice. I also had my reuseable water cup with straw, real fork from home, and used a hankie as a napkin. Was pretty pleased with myself.

budget epicurean leftovers waste free lunch

Snack – peaches, apples, and pear slices

Dinner – Erin’s amazing Turkish red lentil stew! I thought I over-did it on the cinnamon, as it smelled pretty strong, but the flavor was great!

budget epicurean red lentil soup

Then that night I had a great food debate on Twitter, which all started with popcorn. Of course I ended up making a big bowl.

budget epicurean stovetop popcorn

Thursday:

Breakfast – my tropical granola with almond milk

budget epicurean granola and milk

Lunch – leftover summer veggies and quinoa casserole and a big green salad

Dinner – Thursday night $3 co-op dinner! Some friends and I are making a tradition of it. Can you tell which is the beef hot dog and which is the vegan one? In my opinion they tasted pretty much the same!

budget epicurean co-op dinner hot dogs

We also went to one of the final home games of the Durham Bulls season, and a great time was had by all. Even though we got shut down pretty hard… at least the weather was GORGEOUS.

Friday:

Breakfast – I chopped up a potato, a handful of green beans, some tiny peppers, and an heirloom tomato and tossed it all in a pan with 1/2 cup lentils and 1 cup water. I let that simmer for 30 minutes while I made coffee and fed the dogs and got dressed, and then enjoyed my hot and tasty breakfast.

budget epicurean lentils for breakfast

Yes, lentils for breakfast. Try it sometime, you might be surprised.

Lunch – leftover African peanut stew that I made over the weekend with a giant rainbow of free produce from a friends’ parents.

budgetepicurean african stew

Snack – hummus & veggies

Dinner – leftover eggroll in a bowl

 

The Weekend

This will be a half and half weekend. Saturday is chillax and no stress day, I can be productive or choose not to be. And Sunday I am hosting another tea party!

 

Food Total: $55.49 + 74.05 = $129.54

This week’s delivery box price was a bit steeper than usual because in addition to my usual box I also invested in 10 pounds of ‘seconds’; peaches that were slightly bruised or discolored, to process into frozen, canned, and jam.

budget epicurean produce box

And then I spent a hefty sum at the co-op on Thursday, for a few reasons. One, we are nearly out of maple syrup. And I learned that real maple syrup is HELLA expensive. Like $20 a bottle. But. HFCS is no longer allowed in the house, and therefore this is the only option. Hopefully this will last a good long time.

Two, I did not realize spirulina is FORTY TWO DOLLARS PER POUND. Yeah I got like an ounce, but that cost near $20. Ugh. But it was already in my own glass jar and weighed and I wasn’t about to go put it back on the shelf… so I sucked it up. Better make some damn good smoothies is all I’m saying…

I also caved when I saw this amazing steel straw and straw cleaning brush on sale this week. It was cheaper here than on Amazon, plus now there’s no shipping or packaging, and my co-op benefits a little. I have tons of heavy duty straws but no cleaners, so this is great. Now the ones that are questionable from dried on smoothie gunk can be squeaky clean again!

budget epicurean steel straw

 

Lessons Learned

Bulk, package-free shopping is addictive! I had so much fun last time that I found myself getting some things that were not on my list, just because I had already tare-d jars just waiting to be filled. Hoarding habits die hard folks.

Also, always get wide-mouth if you have the choice. SO much easier to fill. And finally, almonds are heavy and come out really fast! I accidentally overflowed my jar, and had to pull out and extra container to put the handful that spilled into. Because I ain’t wasting $10/lb almonds y’all.

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?