Everybody loves coffee. And for most people, their day can only truly begin with a cup of coffee. So whether you make a pot of freshly brewed coffee at home, have it at a local coffee shop on your way to work, or from a coffee machine at the office, the bittersweet taste and delicious aroma give you a boost of energy to start your day.
But have you ever wondered if your daily morning fix impacts the environment? If it does, is there a way to make coffee more sustainable? And what is sustainable coffee anyway?
The Environmental Impact of Coffee
Coffee beans are one of the highly traded agricultural commodities in the world. It is produced in more than 50 countries worldwide, with Brazil being the largest producer, making 2.5 million MT worth of coffee beans per year.
Meanwhile, every step in producing a single cup of coffee, from farming, processing, shipping, roasting, and finally, brewing, directly impacts the environment. From excessive water usage to degradation of rainforests, loss of biodiversity, chemical runoffs in rivers from pesticide use, soil erosion, and the carbon footprint from the processing of coffee beans, the environmental impact of coffee is massive.
What Is Sustainable Coffee?
Because of the massive impact on the environment of coffee, many have switched to sustainable production practices that lessen their carbon footprint and provide better opportunities to farmers.
So, sustainable coffee refers to coffee beans that are farmed using sustainable farming and production practices such as:
- Use of clean, efficient, and renewable energy such as geothermal heating for coffee drying and solar irrigation: This initial step towards taking care of the environment aims at helping save valuable resources and minimising soil, water, and air pollution.
- Minimising water consumption: After coffee cherries are picked, they go through a fermentation process that refines a coffee’s attributes. Meanwhile, they can minimise their water consumption by using the filtered water from the fermentation tanks for irrigation instead of disposing it to rivers and lakes.
- Reusing coffee bean waste and coffee grounds: In the production of coffee beans, wastes like the husks, skin, pulp, mucilage, parchment, and silverskin are produced. In addition, brewing coffee also produces waste in the form of spent coffee grounds. So, these “wastes” can be reused for composting or biofuel in the case of coffee hulls. And this practice will minimise not only the waste produced but also the use of chemical fertilisers in farming.
- Use of alternative methods to ward off insects: It is a known fact that pesticides used in farming are detrimental to the environment. Therefore, some farmers are now using alternative methods such as pheromone traps that ward off some insects or natural biological controls. This step aims to minimise the use of chemical pesticides, which are harmful to the local biodiversity and the health of the farmers and those living nearby.
- Better opportunities for farmers: Sustainable practices also aim at providing a better life for the farmers by giving them proper medical benefits and decent wages, education opportunities for their children, livelihood programs for the rest of their families, and safe working conditions.
How You Can Help
Making coffee more sustainable does not only lie on the producers’ shoulders; you can also reduce the environmental impact of coffee by making small changes to your coffee habits, and some of which are:
1. Choose Better Brands
Some brands are certified as ethical by certifying bodies like FairTrade. These businesses use sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices. So, by supporting FairTrade brands, you are helping towards a better future for the farmers and the environment.
2. Switch to Reusable Cups
While your takeaway cups are recyclable, they still take up a huge bulk of the waste materials found in a landfill. There are also plastic liners for your paper cups which take years to break down. So, you can instead bring your reusable cups to help minimise this kind of wastage.
3. Recycle Your Coffee Grounds
Used coffee grounds can be used as a fertiliser because of their high minerals beneficial to plant health.
Coffee has long been part of every society’s culture. It sets the stage for social interactions while giving you enough energy boost to sustain you throughout the day. Meanwhile, being aware of the environmental impact of coffee and changing your coffee habits will help maintain this important part of the culture for generations to come.