Across the world, coffee brings people together. Whether you’re on a date, catching up with friends, or heading to the office, it’s likely you’ll be doing it with a cup of coffee in hand. In 2020/2021, about 166.63 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee were consumed worldwide, making it one of the highest consumed beverages in the world (Statista). According to sustainability researcher Gunter Pauli, this creates more than 23 million tons of waste per year. How do we reduce that number? By turning those coffee grounds into clothing.
CREATING THE BLUE ECONOMY
Our waste creation is a colossal problem with severe consequences; Pauli has a solution. It’s called the Blue Economy and it goes much beyond our current “green economy” practices. And the best part? It’s affordable.
Many of the environmentally friendly solutions that exist today, exist for those who have expendable income. Like Pauli says, if we want transformation, it needs to be accessible to everyone. The blue economy starts by making an effort to use what we have in efforts to reduce waste. “If I have a cup of coffee and from the waste of that coffee I can grow mushrooms, and the waste from those mushrooms is good food for my chicken I get three cash flows. It’s all operated locally with what I have,” says Pauli.
The blue economy is a big stride towards sustainability. To implement such goals, we need to start on the small scale: compost, go zero waste, etc. And once we, as individuals, have done what we can it’s time for businesses to step up. The good news is, some businesses are already taking these steps. As consumers, we need to do our best to support the businesses that operate with a sustainable mindset and move away from those that promote fast fashion and intentionally manufacture products meant to break.
FABRIC MADE FROM COFFEE GROUNDS
23 million tons of coffee waste is a great place to start reusing. In 2009 Singtex, a Taiwanese textile company, did just that. They put in the time and research to create S. Café coffee yarn and coffee fabrics. The patented process produces fabrics with many benefits. Let’s take a look at a few.
BENEFITS OF COFFEE CLOTHING
Yarn infused with coffee saves landfills from coffee waste, reduces the amount of petroleum based products in production, lowers carbon emissions and uses less energy to manufacture. Not only is coffee clothing good for the environment, but it’s good for you as well, especially if you’re a traveler/backpacker reliant on active wear. It has properties similar to synthetic performance clothing:
- Odor resistant
- Moisture wicking
- UV protection
- Keeps you cool
HOW DO YOU MAKE FABRIC FROM COFFEE GROUNDS?
To make coffee grounds into clothing, the grounds are first spun into yarn. To do so, the oils are extracted from the coffee grounds, cleansed, and ground down into micro-particles. In contrast to synthetic fabrics (processed in high-pressure, high-heat), the coffee grounds are processed in a high-pressured, low-temperature environment. The grounds are then mixed with a recycled synthetic material (polyester or nylon) to form a technical fabric similar to completely synthetic sportswear.
And if you think that’s cool, you’ll be excited to learn soybean is also used to make super soft, eco-friendly clothing!
WHEN YOU DON’T CHOOSE NATURAL FABRICS…
Synthetic fabrics harm the environment and your body. Synthetic fabrics, like nylon and polyester, are plastic materials derived from crude oil – a fossil fuel. As a reminder, gasoline is made from crude oil. In fact, two-thirds of our clothing is made from fossil fuel synthetics. And if that isn’t bad enough, 85% of this is sent to landfills, where it does not decompose (Oilprice.com).
Even before going into the harmful effects of these synthetic fibers, you know this is going to be bad.
Harmful chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer, are used to produce polyester. Polyester is produced in China, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, where environmental protection laws are not in place to protect the population. So when these chemicals are emitted into the water and air untreated, they cause significant damage to the environment.
Nylon is produced in high-pressure, high-heat. This chemical reaction essentially forms a sheet of nylon. This production process releases nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300x more potent than carbon dioxide, leading to further degradation of the ozone layer (downtoearth.org.in).
The harmful effects of synthetic fibers isn’t limited to production. Every time you wash these synthetic fabrics, they leach microplastics into the water, and when you toss them into the dryer, microplastics are exhausted into the air. Ultimately, if it’s in the air, it’s in your lungs.
IMPORTANCE OF SUSTAINABLE FASHION
Current fashion practices, including fast fashion, do not contribute to environmental efforts. We’re repeatedly bombarded with advertisements telling us to buy more, consumer more. This hurts our health, our happiness, and the environment.
The ultimate solution is to reduce the amount we consume by using what we already have. Repurpose old items, go zero waste, compost. And if you have to buy something, consider buying second-hand, or else investing in sustainable clothing.
Note: If you’re looking to buy outdoor adventure gear, consider buying second-hand from GearTrade. They’re motto? The more you know, the less you new.
Although clothing made from coffee grounds is still blended with synthetic fibers, companies like Coalatree use coffee grounds and recycled plastics to save thousands of pounds of waste from landfills and water systems. From the time of this article’s publication, Coalatree has saved 139,878 plastic bottles and 82,301 cups of coffee grounds from entering the landfills!
Their efforts don’t just stop there. Coalatree waterproofs their rain gear with vegetable based waterproofing! Now that’s cool, but why is this important? Traditional man-made waterproofing chemicals, like Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs), wash off our waterproof clothing and end up in our water systems, just like the microplastics mentioned earlier. These dangerous chemicals and microplastics affect the food we eat and ultimately provoke “immune and stress responses and induc[e] reproductive and developmental toxicity,” (Blackburn). To put it simply, these microplastics, along with other chemicals that wash off our clothing, harm our reproductive health and development.
It’s companies like Coalatree that are making an effort to help. As a consumer, if you must buy something, do your best to buy from companies investing in sustainable practices.
As individuals, we are like drops of water. One drop may not make much of an impact, but work together as we become a tidal wave. Invest in sustainable fabrics, fair-trade, and ethical labor practices. We can make a difference.
Written by Priya Kavina