We get a ton of questions about the environmental impacts of our filters. There seems to be a general preference towards reusable filter components and systems because of the perceived environmental benefits over disposable cold brew filters. Here are a few things to consider to open up the discussion:
- Alto Filters require no harsh chemicals - Because Alto Filters are disposable, they require absolutely no harsh chemicals or detergents to rinse, clean and sanitize the reusable filter surfaces. Whether it’s nylon mesh, stainless steel or cotton; one pack of disposable filters saves 50 batches worth of chemicals and detergents from going down the drain and impacting local water quality. Not to mention the water usage during those 50 cleanings.
- Hot coffee filters are disposable - Coffee shops use disposable filters all the time, even when reusable options exist. Disposable filters are regularly used for pour-overs and batch brewers so reusability does not seem to be universally important to coffee professionals. Cold brew filters should be judged on their ability to produce a higher quality coffee and ease of use; the same as standards for hot filters.
- Alto Filters are biodegradable - Alto Filters meet international standards for biodegradability. They are not ‘compostable’ in the sense that they can be tossed in the garden and decompose like a banana peel, but they are biodegradable. Even with that said, it’s not clear how many coffee shops put 100% of their current coffee filter waste in a green trash or compost it out back. Most seem to throw out spent coffee grounds and filters with the rest of the trash.
- Alto Filters are less than 1% of total waste - 7.09lbs of coffee waste is generated per batch of cold brew assuming one 5lb batch of cold brew absorbs a quart of water (2.09lb). On the other hand, our cold brew filters weight only 22g (0.0485lb) or about the same as half a slice of bread. To put it another way, shops often throw out 150 times more coffee waste than filter waste with every batch.
- Alto Filters are more sanitary - No matter how well a reusable filter is cleaned, it will eventually gunk up and turn brown, stained with the coffee residue that could not be entirely removed. This is especially true for cotton and nylon mesh filters. I think that coffee shops and cold brew producers might think twice about how sanitary the process is (and appears) if cold brew was made in front of customers the way their other coffee is.
It is complicated to compare environmental impacts of different systems but we hope this post helps add to the discussion. Reusable systems are not without environmental impacts and disposable filters have certain benefits as well.
What are your thoughts?