Are Used Coffee Filters Compostable?

The average kitchen produces around 40 kg of compostable kitchen waste. Which means that home composting can reduce a massive amount of waste that would otherwise find its way into landfills.

While most people know that vegetable waste, such as peelings, can be composted, fewer know about other compostable kitchen waste. And one of the most overlooked categories of kitchen waste is tea bags and coffee filters.

If you drink an average of 3 cups of coffee a day, how much waste are you accumulating in your bin? Any more than that and you’ll soon find it stacks up to a whole garbage bin’s worth of coffee grounds and filters in less than a year.

The good news is that the majority of waste from coffee is compostable – including paper coffee filters. Some bleached paper filters should be avoided, though, if chlorine is mentioned anywhere.

But the best eco-friendly coffee filters are reusable filters.

How to compost coffee filters

When using paper coffee filters, you can add them to your compost with your coffee grounds. Oregon State University Extension recommends layering one-third of coffee grounds to fresh grass clippings and leaves. Alternatively, you can mix your coffee grounds and paper filters together in a static compost pile.

Paper coffee filters can be a great carbon source. However, it’s best to tear up your paper coffee filters to help speed up decomposition.

Cloth coffee filters can be compostable if you are sure they are made from natural fibers, haven’t been bleached, or are certified compostable. Only natural fibers will break down in home composting. They should also be torn or cut up to aid decomposition.

Are coffee filters bad for the environment?

There are several popular types of coffee filters. Each fits into four categories: waste, reusable, compostable, harmful.

  • Paper filters: waste, compostable.
  • Cloth filters: reusable, compostable.
  • Metal filters: reusable.
  • Chlorine bleached filters: waste, harmful.
  • Oxygen bleached filters: waste, compostable.

Cloth and metal coffee filters are both reusable filters that can reduce waste. However, you need to clean cloth coffee filters in between uses. Metal coffee filters may be great for reducing waste but they are not as effective at filtering out small coffee granules and diterpenes, the cholesterol-raising compounds in unfiltered coffee.

Paper is one of the most common materials for coffee filters and is responsible for the majority of waste that can otherwise be recycled or composted.

They come in two varieties: bleached or unbleached.

Bleached or unbleached paper filters

Some people believe that paper filters add a papery taste to their coffee, so they buy bleached paper filters.

But you need to know that chlorine-bleached filters are environmentally harmful!. A study published in Environmental Engineering and Management Journal in 2012 determined that the “environmental impact of pulp and paper manufacture results mainly from wood pulping and pulp bleaching processes”, with sulfur compounds and nitrogen oxides polluting the air while chlorine, which is harmful to organisms that live in water and soil, is discharged into wastewater.

The harm from bleaching affects the entire paper industry. Oxygen bleaching is only slightly better, as it still requires more processing than unbleached paper.

So, instead of buying bleached paper coffee filters, Perfect Daily Grind recommends double rinsing unbleached filters to avoid any papery taste.

Which coffee filters are best for the environment

You should avoid chlorine bleached coffee filters at all costs. If you already compost, buying unbleached paper coffee filters can become one of your carbon sources.

Although cloth and metal coffee filters need routine cleaning, which can typically be done with water and some vinegar or other eco-friendly soap, these reusable filters allow you to cut down on waste and are the best option if you are unable to compost.

Ultimately it’s up to you whether composting paper filters or reusing cloth or metal filters is more beneficial for your lifestyle.

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