Let’s be frank. Coffee brewing isn’t exactly environmentally friendly – on top of paper filters, we as an industry use a significant amount of disposable cups and utencils plus we rely on electricity to boil our water or keep our machines running at a constant temperature.

Although disposable coffee cups take the limelight in the race against waste, paper filters also contribute to the numbers. Don’t don’t get me wrong, paper filters are great. They are easily available and make cleaning up a breeze. But they are single use and between our favorite V60 to the versatile aeropress, we do end up producing quite a significant amount of paper waste – a household that brews only a cup a day would use up 28 – 31 filters in a month, and the numbers will build up overtime.

Used paper coffee filters are usually not accepted as part of regular recycling programs because of the presence of coffee oils trapped in the paper.

Here’re three ways you can reduce the environmental impact of your used paper filters:

1 – Compost

Used coffee grounds are frequently used to increase the nitrogen levels of a compost bin, but there’s little mention of used coffee paper filters.

So can used coffee paper filters be added into a compost bin?

Good news, yes they can! According to the folks at stackexchange’s gardening forum:

“Yes, you can add coffee grounds with their filters to your compost pile. Because they are wet, they decompose fairly quickly. The filters may dry out you if leave them on top of the pile in dry weather. Keep it inside the pile and keep it moist.”

“My brown coffee filters breakdown quickly. The white chlorinated coffee filters take longer to break down.”

“Just try and rip/break them up when turning over your compost, just as you would rather throw in a shredded newspaper instead of one that is fully intact.”

Instead of chucking your used coffee filters in the trash and sending them to a landfill, let the microbes breakdown your used paper filters into reusable nutrients for plants!

How to compost used coffee filters?

If you’re maintaining your own compost bin, here’re some tips to note when adding coffee filters to your bin:

1 – Cut them up

Smaller pieces of paper filters break down and decompose faster than larger pieces.

Do your compost bin a favor, tear up your used paper filters into smaller bits so that they break down faster.

2 – Keep them moist

Two key factors that promote decomposition are: temperature and moisture.

Moisture helps to increase microbial metabolism which aids in the decomposition of the coffee filters.

Keep your used paper filters moist by burying them under the rest of the compost instead of leaving them on the surface. They should decompose fast this way. If you wish to speed up the process even further, refer to #1 above – cut them up into even smaller pieces.

What if I don’t have a compost bin?

In urban Singapore, most of us do not keep a compost bin. However, if you have access to a community garden or know of neighbours who are avid gardeners, you may want to ask if them would like to have your used coffee filters (and even coffee grounds) for their bins.

Otherwise, here’re some other ways to reduce the environmental impact of your used paper filters:

2 – Reuse

Nope, not asking you to brew another cup of coffee with the coffee filter. (Unless you’re using an Aeropress. The paper filter seems durable and the community has gotten pretty reliable brews from reused aeropress filters)

All you need to do is to remove the coffee grounds, then sun dry the paper filter. There is no need to wash the paper filter, the coffee grounds will come off easily once its dried.

The process may be a little messy but used paper filters can be cleaned, dried out and reused in several ways before you throw them out:

  • Oil filter / strainer: if you cook at home, used paper filters are great as oil filters.
  • Alternatives to paper towels for oil absorption: if you fry food at home, this is a good alternative.
  • Deodoriser for the shoe cabinet: for this, you don’t even need to dry out the filter. Just add baking soda to a wet filter (on a tray) and leave them in your shoe cabinet.

3 – Switch them out for reusable options

The coffee community has been actively working on alternative options to paper filters, you should be able to find reusable cloth or metal coffee filters for your brewing method.

Do note that you’ll likely get a different tasting cup when you switch out your paper filters.

Over to you…

I hope the suggestions provided above prove useful. If you have tips on how to reduce the environmental impact of your paper filters, leave a comment below!