Are Coffee Filters Compostable? (Answer Here!)

coffee carafe outdoors with filter

If you’re anything like me, you go brew coffee at least once every day — sometimes two or three times if you’ve been up too late the night before or you have guests. If you’re using filters, they can really start to pile up in the garbage. I began to get concerned about the environmental impact of my love for caffeine, and I wondered, could I compost coffee filters instead?

Generally, you can compost your coffee filters as long as they’re made of paper. If you’re committed to organic compost, you may need to do additional research on how the paper has been treated, but composting any paper filter is better for the environment than throwing it away. 

You might need to experiment a little to find the perfect composting approach for you, and composting is not the only green option for brewing coffee. But if you regularly compost other kitchen scraps, you can add your coffee filters without disrupting your brewing routine. 

Can You Compost Coffee Filters?

Most coffee filters are just paper, and paper is compostable. If you do your own composting and you’re not too particular about what goes in it, that’s about all you need to know.

If you’re committed to organic gardening, you might want to use brown paper coffee filters. These are unbleached, fully organic, and will break down quicker. The only downside is that you should moisten them before use, and some people believe they don’t do quite as good a job as bleached filters. I recommend trying both and deciding for yourself.

Unlike brown paper coffee filters, white coffee filters have been bleached, either with chlorine or oxygen. The oxygen approach is generally considered to be safer but is also slightly more expensive. No chlorine is supposed to make its way into your coffee, and the vast majority of the bleach is lost in the brewing process. These are still absolutely compostable! They may just take an extra month or two to break down, and it’s up for debate whether or not they’re organic.

All of this only applies to paper filters. If you have reusable filters, most of them aren’t compostable, but you should be reusing them, anyway! Additionally, keep an eye out for paper coffee filters that are coated in plastic. Those won’t be compostable, and the plastic coating is unnecessary; I recommend switching brands. 

If you do your own composting, the type of filter you use is your choice. If you’re part of a neighborhood composting group or subscribe to a composting service, they may have specific rules about bleached and unbleached filters.

How To Compost Coffee Filters

Yes, paper coffee filters are compostable, but it’s worth putting a little time into learning some tips and tricks so you don’t disrupt your composting process.

To effectively compost coffee filters, make sure you’re composting coffee grounds as well, consider tearing your filters into smaller pieces, and take the time to turn them into the compost so they stay moist.

3 Steps To Successfully Compost Coffee Filters

  1. Compost filters and grounds together. Filters are rich in carbon, and grounds are rich in nitrogen. Composting them together keeps your compost well-balanced.
  2. Tear up your filters. The smaller the pieces of filter you compost, the quicker they’ll break down. There’s no need to run your filters through a paper shredder, but tearing them into three or four pieces when you’re throwing them in will ensure you don’t find any whole coffee filters in your garden later.
  3. Mix them in. Ideally, you’d add a few filters to your compost every day instead of saving them up until the end of the week. You want them to stay moist, so it won’t be helpful if they form a thick layer on top of the compost. Turning your compost over regularly to mix them in will also ensure they break down faster. 

It’s worth noting that some people complain about the odor of composting coffee grounds. Getting them out of the house ASAP and mixed into your compost pile will help with that as well. Overall, if you follow these steps, your filters shouldn’t take more than 6-8 months to break down.

Are Coffee Filters Recyclable?

Wouldn’t it be easier to just put your coffee filters out with your recycling?

Unfortunately, once a coffee filter has been used, it is no longer recyclable. Even if washed and dried, oils from the brewing process can remain trapped in the fibers, which makes it difficult to reuse the paper.

What If I Can’t Compost My Coffee Filters?

If you don’t garden enough to make composting feasible, and you don’t have access to a composting service, there are still plenty of options for greener caffeine. 

Luckily, paper coffee filters can be used multiple times if washed and dried between uses, and there are also numerous reusable coffee filters on the market if you want to avoid paper waste altogether.

Reusing Paper Coffee Filters

Most paper coffee filters can be reused four or five times. Simply dump the used grounds in the garbage, rinse it briefly, and then leave it in your drying rack. It will be ready to use again the next morning.

Not everyone is comfortable reusing filters and the number of uses will depend on the quality of filters and your tolerance for variation in your brewing process. Experiment and discover how many uses work for you. Even using each filter twice will cut your impact in half.

Reusable Coffee Filters

Many coffee makers come with a reusable coffee filter, and reusable filters can be purchased separately to pair with your favorite coffee pot or pour-over station.

These filters can be made from metal, cloth, and polyester, none of which filter quite as finely as paper does, so some oils and tiny pieces of grounds get through. Coffee oils are largely responsible for its scent, so proponents of reusable filters will point to a better smelling cup of coffee and a thicker mouthfeel.

Other brewers find the thickness off-putting and believe the coffee oils increase your odds of getting heartburn. 

I use reusable filters for both hot coffee and cold brew. I like the taste, and I find sending the grounds down the garbage disposal and giving the filter a quick rinse to be much easier than thinking about composting. But it’s a personal preference and worth experimenting with.

Other Uses for Paper Coffee Filters

If you’re looking to get a little extra mileage out of your paper coffee filters, and you’re a DIYer, composting isn’t the only option. You can find several surprising uses for coffee filters around the home.

In many instances, paper towels can be replaced with used coffee filters — they’ll retain moisture in the microwave, and they’re ideal for cleaning glass without scratching or leaving behind residue. They can also be used to strain cooking oil and they have some uses in gardening as well, including lining pots and as a covering to keep weeds down.

For all of these uses, you’ll want to wash and dry your used filters first, of course.

Tim S.

Tim loves roasting, brewing, and experimenting with coffee. After years of perfecting this craft, working as a barista, and owning a small coffee service in college, he has decided to share his knowledge with the world.

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