Coffee is something many of us enjoy and it can also be a large part of our social life. While we are savouring our morning cuppa, most of us don’t stop to think about how bad coffee production is for the environment.
As demand for coffee continues to rise, our consumption of coffee is causing increasing environmental concern. Coffee production goes through a number of stages and many of them are bad for the environment.
Key environmental concerns with coffee production
- Deforestation: Coffee plantations often contribute to deforestation, which is particularly damaging in regions with high biodiversity. Traditionally coffee was grown in the shade beneath a canopy of taller trees, but the growing demand has seen a change to growing in large plantations which encourages deforestation and requires the widespread use of chemical fertilisers. Clearing land for coffee cultivation can result in the loss of natural habitats for many plant and animal species.
- Water Usage: Coffee cultivation requires significant amounts of water, and improper water management can lead to water scarcity in some regions. The use of water in processing and washing coffee beans also contributes to water pollution if not properly managed.
- Chemical Use: The use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in conventional coffee farming can have negative impacts on the environment. Runoff from these chemicals can contaminate soil and water, harming local ecosystems and wildlife.
- Soil Degradation: Intensive farming practices, such as monoculture due to the large coffee plantations, and the use of chemical inputs, can lead to soil degradation over time. This can result in decreased soil fertility, erosion, and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases.
- Energy Consumption: Coffee processing, transportation, and packaging contribute to the overall energy footprint of coffee production. The roasting process also requires energy, and in some cases, traditional wood-fired drying methods can contribute to deforestation.
- Waste Generation: The coffee production process generates waste, including pulp and husks from the processing of coffee cherries. If not properly managed, this waste can lead to pollution and environmental degradation.
- Transportation Emissions: The transportation of coffee from the growing regions to consumers around the world contributes to carbon emissions. Long-distance transportation, especially by air, has a higher environmental impact compared to other modes of transport.
- Climate Change Vulnerability: Coffee crops are sensitive to climate conditions, and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can impact yields and quality. Climate change poses a significant threat to the long-term sustainability of coffee production.
What is the Solution?
Many in the coffee industry are making efforts to reduce the impact on the environment due to coffee production. Some coffee producers are adopting more sustainable farming practices, such as shade-grown and organic methods. This can help reduce some of the negative impacts. Certifications like Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance aim to promote environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices within the coffee industry. As a consumer you can also make choices that support sustainable and environmentally friendly coffee production.
Some tips to help you make your coffee habit better for the environment:
Choose Sustainable Coffee Beans: Go for coffee beans that are certified as organic, shade-grown, or Fair Trade. These certifications often indicate that the coffee has been produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.
Buy in Bulk: Purchase coffee beans in bulk to reduce packaging waste. Look for stores that allow you to bring your own container for refills.
Use a Reusable Coffee Filter: Help reduce the amount of paper waste if using a drip coffee maker by using a reusable filter instead of disposable paper filters.
Choose a Sustainable Coffee Maker: Some coffee makers are more energy-efficient than others so look for machines with energy-saving features or those that have earned an Energy Star rating.
Minimize Single-Use Coffee Pods: Single-use coffee pods, such as those used in many pod-based systems, generate a significant amount of plastic waste. If possible, choose a coffee maker that allows you to use refillable pods or opt for systems that use compostable pods.
Make Instant Coffee: it turns out that instant coffee is the most environmentally friendly choice as it uses less coffee and boiling a kettle uses less energy than making a traditional coffee. If you are a purest though, continue to enjoy your coffee the traditional way. How the coffee is cultivated and its impact on the ecosystem is still the most important consideration.
Bring Your Own Cup: Bring your own reusable cup when buying a coffee at a cafe to help reduce waste.
Reduce Water Waste: Be mindful of water usage when brewing your coffee and only brew the amount of coffee you need. Consider using a coffee maker with adjustable water settings to avoid unnecessary water waste.
Compost Coffee Grounds: Compost your coffee grounds instead of throwing them in the trash. Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen and can be a valuable addition to your compost bin or garden.
Support Sustainable Brands: Choose coffee brands that prioritize environmental sustainability in their production and sourcing practices.
Recycle Coffee Packaging: If you can’t buy coffee in bulk, choose brands with eco-friendly packaging, and make sure to recycle the packaging materials.
Learn About the Coffee Supply Chain: Educate yourself about the environmental and social practices of the coffee brands you support. Understanding the supply chain can help you make more informed choices.
Remember, every small change made can help reduce the bad environmental impacts of coffee to make it a more sustainable habit. Check out this supplier as a starting point
What you can do with coffee grounds – find out here