Think Outside the Bottle

September 7, 2008
Pledge to Break the Bottled Water Habit.

Pledge to Break the Bottled Water Habit.

Posted by Chris O’Brien

In the past decade, bottled water has become a convenience most Americans have come to take for granted. Homebrewers often use it in place of water from the tap. Likewise, coffee connoisseurs are reaching for the bottled stuff in attempts to brew great coffee at home.

Fact is, water is the biggest ingredient in both beer and coffee, so it makes sense to pay attention to its quality. But did you know that roughly half of bottled water is just tap water put in a bottle? And furthermore, that the health and safety regulations governing tap water are far more effective than those in place for bottled water – bottled water often is untested whereas there are free annual water quality reports available for all municipal tap water systems?

What’s more is that bottled water is an astounding 750-2,700 times more expensive than tap water.

Take a look at the new, free Responsible Purchasing Guide to Bottled Water Alternatives. Then take the Center for a New American Dream’s Pledge to Break the Bottled Water Habit.


At last! Fill up your gas tank with spent Coffee Grounds

May 16, 2008
Now this is what we’ve all been waiting for. Our love of great coffee may someday fuel our addiction to cars!
Cafe Racer Touted as a “carbon negative” vehicle, the 1975 GMC pick-up known as the Cafe Racer is fueled by spent coffee grounds (or most trash) through a process known as gasification.

‘What is gasification? Gasification is the general term used for processes where heat is used to transform solid biomass into a “natural gas like” flammable fuel. Through gasification, we can take nearly any solid biomass waste and convert it into a clean burning, carbon neutral, gaseous fuel. Whether starting with wood scraps or coffee grounds, municipal trash or junk tires, the end product is a flexible gaseous fuel you can burn in your gasoline engine, cooking stove, heating furnace and/or flamethrower.’ (click here for more info on the Cafe Racer)

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee Emissions

December 30, 2007

Posted by Chris O’Brien

Many people concerned about coffee and sustainability are aware of important issues related to organic agriculture, preservation of the forest canopy and bird habitat, and equitable trading partnerships between farmers and importers/roasters/retailers.

But what about air pollution?

Green coffee beans contain a wide variety of chemical compounds including proteins, fats, sugars, dextrine, cellulose, caffeine, and organic acids. Some of these volatize, oxidize, or decompose (i.e. become pollution) as part of the roasting process. Consequently, toxic compounds such as aldehydes (as in formaldehyde), organic acids (such as acetic acid) and acrolein are emitted as a result of the coffee roasting process.

The EPA regulates these emissions according to classes of pollution: particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, organic acids, and natural gas combustion products.

Here’s the EPA’s flow chart of the emissions created by coffee processing.

Roaster emissions

Okay, so roasting causes emissions, but it looks like a lot of this is particulate matter (PM). PM is basically airborne dust and dirt. Raking leaves creates particulate matter – soil and dust catching air from rustling up the leaves. That doesn’t exactly sound like a problem worthy of much concern. But the smoke from diesel fuel is also PM – that seems a little worse. Smog is also partly comprised of PM. According to the EPA, PM can cause coughing and contribute to asthma and other respiratory problems. But here’s the real kicker: exposure to PM is linked with premature death.

On top of that, coffee roasting also emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which is a complicated way of saying all sorts of air pollution. And finally, roasting emits greenhouse gases such as carbon, methane and nitrous oxide.

Here is an EPA chart of coffee roasting emissions in pounds of emissions per ton of coffee roasted. It gives a whole new meaning to the expression “wake up and smell the coffee.” If you’re reading this and you know of any roasters doing something to address emissions, please submit a comment or email me directly using the Contact form on this blog.

Roaster emissions