According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word iniquitous means grossly unjust or unrighteous; wicked. This term perfectly encapsulates the overall actions of the Coffee Industry, and it’s unfortunate consequences dispersed amongst our dwindling environment.
What is coffee to you? How does coffee impact your life? Most people would answer both of those questions by saying coffee is that drink to wake you up in the morning before work/school, and that’s where the impact really stops. The average coffee drinker has no concept of where the coffee comes from, or how it’s grown. This ignorance needs to be stopped for the sake of the future of our environment. Every aspect of the coffee industry, from growing to before and after consumption, hurts the environment in some way. In an article called, Coffee – The Environmental Impact of our Caffeine Addiction, the author, Jennifer Okafor, starts off by saying “Our consumption of coffee is global and so is its environmental impact. Our coffee drinking habit has consequences for the climate, biodiversity, and the financial well-being of farmers. Since most coffee-growing regions are areas with delicate ecosystems the impact on the environment can prove both concerning and significant.” This quote perfectly scratches the surface of how much influence the coffee industry has on the environment and on the consumer. The consumer blindly endorses this behavior by purchasing the product. Not only is the manufacturer at fault, but the uneducated consumer is as well.
The practices of the cultivation of coffee has changed drastically throughout the years. The traditional shade grown method was preferred for being environmentally friendly but over the years a different method has been adopted to keep up with the growing demand. There are two types of coffee plants; arabica and robusta. Arabica plants favor more shaded environments for better quality beans. Robusta plants are typically grown in direct sunlight thus creating a lesser quality bean. Okafor continues to explain that, “The demand for inexpensive coffee has positively encouraged farmers to embrace the practice of growing coffee directly under the sun. The yield from coffee fields without tree canopies is much higher than that of shaded farms and, as a result, is cheaper.” This favoring towards the sun grown method has put a damper on the environment in the area called the “bean belt.” The bean belt consists of South America, Asia, Africa, Middle East, and others including Australia, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Jamaica. In an article by Adams + Russell, they speak about why the bean belt got its name, “The Bean Belt is the name given to the collection of countries across the globe that produce most of the coffee that we drink each and every day. These countries are mainly in the southern hemisphere and all lie between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.” The loss of natural habitats is one of the main environmental consequences of the coffee industry’s misconduct. From Okafor’s article, Coffee – The Environmental Impact of our Caffeine Addiction, she presents statistics on deforestation and biodiversity, “The spread of coffee plantations has resulted in critical deforestation, putting certain plants and animals in danger. Out of the 50 countries globally with the highest deforestation rates, 37 are major coffee-growing regions. Out of the 25 biodiversity hotspots, 13 areas with delicate ecosystems are coffee-producing regions.” These statistics come from an article written by Kristina Sorby called, Environmental benefits of sustainable coffee. Sorby adds more informative statistics by saying, “Of the 11.8 million hectares used for coffee production around the world in 2001, only 2.3 million hectares are not planted in areas of former or current rainforest.” This statistic is troubling considering the massive amount of deforestation in rainforests worldwide.
Following the cultivation process, the next step would be to turn the coffee beans into grounds. In an article by Ian Fletcher called, An Effective Approach For the Management of Waste Coffee Grounds, he speaks about the pollution during and after the processing of coffee ground, “Over a 6 month period in 1988, it was estimated that processing 547,000 tons of coffee in Central America generated as much as 1.1 million tons of pulp and polluted 110,000 cubic metres of water each day. This excess waste can also play havoc with soil and water sources as coffee pulp is often dumped into streams, severely degrading fragile ecosystems.” This process only accounts for about 4% of the coffee industry’s environmental impact, according to the article, Unique Research Revealed that Significant Amounts of Coffee Goes to Waste, written by Lea Rankinen. She continues to share that the largest impact the coffee industry is involved with is the cultivation of coffee at 68%. Following the theme of pollution through soil and water, the cultivation of coffee under direct sunlight provides more environmental difficulties. The vulnerability of the coffee plants to pests forces the farmers to use pesticides to certify a healthy harvest. The use of pesticides causes the air and ground water to be polluted causing contamination in the soil and water supply. Okafor explains that the organic waste from coffee production causes “significant river pollution. The discharged waste from the coffee processing plants into the waterways triggers the eutrophication of water systems and robs aquatic plants and animals of oxygen.” The amount of intentional or unintentional environmental impacts of the coffee industry have proven to negatively determine the future of the climate.
The waste of the consumer accounts for a huge portion of the environmental impact. Rankinen shares a statistic about coffee waste by saying that, “It turned out that coffee is the third biggest category in total food waste, only vegetables and fruit products are thrown away more. An average Finn wastes some 2.5 liters of coffee drink annually. Differences between households were significant: the 16% of households that generate the most food waste poured away approximately 13 liters of coffee per person annually.” As well as the massive amount of liquid waste, the amount of waste from disposable cups, filters, and coffee pods generate a large amount of excess waste. This waste causes an extensive carbon footprint, thus contributing to climate change. There’s a lot of things you can do to help the environment and decrease your carbon footprint, but you must first learn where to look. Your selection of coffee and cup would’ve never been your first thought, but I hope now it might be.
The bean belt – coffees from around the world. Adams + Russell Coffee Roasters. (2021, July 20). Retrieved October 23, 2021, from https://www.adamsandrussell.co.uk/the-bean-belt-coffees-from-around-the-world/.
Fletcher, I. (2002). Ian Fletcher an effective approach for the … – core. An Effective Approach for the Management of Waste Coffee Grounds. Retrieved October 23, 2021, from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/74208261.pdf.
Rankinen, L. (2020, December 16). Unique research revealed that significant amounts of coffee go to waste. Luonnonvarakeskus. Retrieved October 23, 2021, from https://www.luke.fi/en/references/significant-amounts-of-coffee-go-to-waste/.
Okafor, J. (2021, September 14). Coffee – environmental impact of our caffeine habit. TRVST. Retrieved October 23, 2021, from https://www.trvst.world/sustainable-living/coffee-environmental-impact/#cmf_footnote_5.
Sorby, K. (2002, June). Environmental benefits of sustainable coffee. Documents & reports – all documents. Retrieved October 23, 2021, from https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/831701468762315416/text/295970Env0bene10also02453501public1.txt.