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Millions are tossed into landfills daily. If you're using the drip method, here are some alternatives...

How to buy eco-friendly reusable coffee filters

1) Re-usable: these kinds of filters may be made of a variety tree-friendly materials, including hemp, muslin, nylon, stainless steel, and gold.

2) Paper: if you choose to stick with paper, forgo the conventional white kind. Brown paper filters are often produced from recycled pulp and are always bleach-free. Although a majority of white paper coffee filters are chlorine-bleached—and contain dioxins—many paper filter producers sell chemical-free, oxygen-bleached, white coffee filters. Unbleached or oxygen-bleached filters can be composted along with coffee grounds and used for gardening purposes.

Find it! Reusable or recycled coffee filters

Here's a list of GY-recommended reusable and recycled coffee filters. A variety of specialty shops, chain stores, and online merchants also sell coffee filters including Fante's Kitchen Wares Shop, which sells reusable cotton, gold, and stainless steel coffee filters; and Greenfeet, which offers reusable cloth and hemp coffee filters and unbleached paper filters.

Before you buy

The alternatives to disposable paper coffee filters come with a higher price tag and require more maintenance. Gold filters, for example, must be hand-washed and the grind of the coffee must be adjusted to match the flow of the filter. Non-paper filters also block fewer oils in the brewing process. As a result, the coffee will be stronger (oils in coffee beans give it much of its flavor) but clean up of the coffee maker will be more difficult.

And French Press users should be aware that studies have shown that excessive consumption of this coffee type can lead to higher levels of "bad" cholesterol, low-density-lipoprotein, a risk factor for heart disease. Paper filters, while not tree-friendly, do absorb two cholesterol-boosting chemicals, cafestol and kahweol, that pass through the mesh coffee filters of French Press carafes.

Choosing reusable or recycled coffee filters helps you go green because…

  • It makes use of recycled paper pulp, lessening the need for virgin timber in paper production.
  • It does not involve the use of chlorine bleach, a toxic chemical unsafe to humans and the environment.
  • It reduces waste that would otherwise end up in landfills.

Whether buying reusable or recycled coffee filters, you are lessening the demand for virgin timber to create new paper products. The pulp and paper industry plays a major role in deforestation, which each year causes 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to tree loss, the virgin timber-based pulp and paper industry is the third greatest industrial emitter of global warming pollution, with carbon dioxide emissions projected to double by 2020.

Pulp mills, where the bleaching process takes place, account for 13 percent of chlorine used in the United States.[1] Ninety-six percent of toxic dioxins found in the environment come from air emissions, including pollution from paper mills, before settling into soil and water where they can wreak developmental and reproductive havoc in wildlife. Dioxins can also cause health problems in humans, including cancer and immune system failure. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that humans consume 300 to 600 times the dosage of dioxins (from various sources) deemed as harmless. The EPA also reports that 40 to 70 percent of the dioxins contained in bleached coffee filters actually appear in a cup of coffee.[2]

Eco-filter alternatives

The production of recycled paper reduces air pollution by 74 percent and water pollution by 35 percent when compared to making paper products from virgin timber because fewer chemicals are used, including chlorine for bleaching (which produces harmful dioxins).[3] Choosing recycled paper options also means waste reduction. In 2005, 44.9 million tons of paper products were taken to landfills, constituting 40 percent of the total waste stream.[4] Although it is unknown how many paper coffee filters are discarded on a daily basis, using reusable filters can help reduce the amount of paper entering the waste stream.

Glossary

dioxins: A family of toxic made-man organic chemicals, found in products such as bleached paper and formed from the burning and manufacturing of chemicals containing chlorine, with a toxicity level ranking just below radioactive waste.