French press vs. coffee maker: Which is greener?
French press versus coffee maker
A few months ago, my coffeemaker broke for the last time.
That was the day—after going through two, admittedly cheap, coffeemakers in one year—I decided I was not going to fuss with them any longer. It wasn’t just the money I had to shell out each time, I also had to dump all of its glass, plastic and wiring into the garbage can. To my knowledge, and affirmed by Maia Dickerson of Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful, I can’t recycle coffeemakers in Reno.
Dickerson suggested going to a thrift store to get a carafe or whatever part is missing. But my carafe wasn’t broken; the machine was. I decided to get a curvy, lime-green tea kettle and a French press.
Together, they cost roughly the same as a mid-level coffeemaker—about $55 total—but was this truly better for the environment? It’s hard to say. For starters, going from cold to hot water takes energy, whether it’s a coffeemaker plugging into an outlet or a kettle heating on a stove. However, calculations based on information from the U.S. Department of Energy and Wikianswers showed it takes more energy to brew coffee in a typical coffeemaker than to boil water in a tea kettle —82-219 kilowatt-hours per year for a coffeemaker compared to 26 kWh per year with a kettle. These figures will vary depending on the energy expenditure of the coffee maker or stovetop you’re using, as well as the amount of water being heated. Save energy by heating only what you intend to drink.
Then there’s the materials issue. Most automatic drip coffeemakers have plastic bodies and filter baskets, as well as a base plate, warmer plate and heating unit made from various metals, and the carafe is made out of heat-proof glass. There are also parts for timers, switches and wiring. French presses, on the other hand, are also made from those materials—glass container, plastic lid and metal plunger—but in far smaller quantities and without all the electrical stuff. In my experience, malfunctioning electrical parts are often why coffeemakers are thrown away. So it’s highly unlikely you’ll have to replace your French press unless you smash it against the wall, and tea kettles last for decades.
Another reason I like my French press is it takes up about one-third of the space my hulking coffee pot did, which isn’t so much an ecological benefit as an aesthetic one. I also think pressed coffee tastes better and slightly richer, though you may disagree.
Here are more ways to greenify your coffee drinking experience: 1) Options for sustainably grown, organic and free trade coffee can be found in nearly any grocery store or café. 2) If you prefer coffeemakers over French presses, use a filterless one to reduce waste, and unplug it when you’re not using it. 3) Compost your used coffee grounds; plants love them.