Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pressed for savings

I like coffee. It's one of my vices. But there are a lot of problems with coffee, too. To try and minimize my contributions to the woes created by coffee production, I drink fair trade, organically grown coffee whenever possible.

But energy and waste are other concerns. Coffee grounds and filters are easily dealt with. They can go into my composter, or to a municipal composting program such as Toronto's Green Bin. Metal filters reduce waste, too. But conventional coffee makers also use a lot of electricity and produce a lot of waste. With all their electronic components and their bulky plastic frames, a lot of material goes to a landfill whenever one breaks. And, as we've all learned the hard way, it's cheaper and easier to replace an entire coffee maker than it is to replace a cracked carafe.

A few yers ago, while visiting a cottage on Lake Huron, there was a power failure. Luckily, the place had a solar-charged battery bank for backup. Worked like a charm. At least until we tried to make coffee, that is. The coffee maker instantly drained the system, plunging us once again into darkness.

Just how much energy does a coffee maker use? According to the USEPA, a coffee maker draws 900-1200 watts. That's about as much as an iron, a toaster or a small portable heater. It's a lot of electricity. If your coffee maker stays on for just half an hour a day, that adds up to about 180 kilowatt hours per year. That's roughly equivalent to watching a big projection television for more than 1000 hours. Oh, and if you're measuring your carbon footprint, that's about 40 kg of carbon dioxide, based on the annual average from the Ontario grid.

So, what's the solution? Why, a coffee press, of course! Also known to many as a Bodum, these handy devices make far better cofee than to automatic drip systems. Because the grounds are suspended in hot water, they also use fewer beans per cup. For my morning brew, I throw in some grounds, pour in boiling water, wrap it in a thick towel (to keep heat in), wait five minutes, press the grounds down and pour a perfect, piping hot cup!

What are the energy savings? Assume one pot a day using a 1000-watt kettle, taking five minutes to boil. That's about 25 kWh per year. In other words, using a coffee press saves about 155 kWh of electricity a year, or 34 kg of carbon dioxide.

To be fair, I often toss my second cup in the microwave for a few seconds, bu that comes nowhere near the drain of keeping a coffee maker's heating element on for half an hour.

Best of all, I get a much better cup of coffee. We all have our priorities.

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