A Change Can Change Everything
Choosing the perfect coffee brand may not seem like an important task for you. Your local supermarket may have a sale on a well-known brand, and that’s how you make your decision. You may see an enticing commercial on TV, that gets your mouth watering for a hot cup of joe. This mindless decision to pick the best coffee brand is something that many Americans deal with daily. Little do they know that their decision, although seemingly unimportant, will endorse unforseen toxic behavior carried out by the manufacturer if the wrong purchase is made by the consumer.
Undoubtedly, the irresponsible consumer claims they hold no responsibility, asserting that the industry leading coffee brands themselves are most accountable for the environmental detriment. Although this may be partly true, the line between manufacturer and consumer is seemingly slim because of their coinciding negative influence on the environment. The overall impact is too large on each side to not consider a substantial change to each of their practices. This change may be costly, mainly for the manufacturer, but it must be done to maintain a sustainable planet for future generations.
The first step of change must begin at the very start, planting and harvesting. Although most environmentally compliant coffee companies plant and harvest under shaded areas, the largest coffee companies are met with the dilemma of a safe environment or cost efficiency. Almost all of the time they choose the latter. The option of a safe environment refers to the choice to grow the coffee beans naturally under shaded beds of trees. The more favorable and cost efficient method is to cause massive deforestation in areas along the “Bean Belt.” Familiar brands such as: Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Keurig and Maxwell House all share similar qualities, but their environmental compliance needs to be put into check.
In 2020, Starbucks has committed to a more environmentally friendly future as the multi-national company celebrates 50 years since it’s creation. Although this may be great for it’s investment profile, their actions still leave much to be desired. Being one of the industry leading coffee companies, it’s assumed that their environmental impact would be massive. That assumption would be correct. Their wasteful practices were at an all time high throughout the 2000’s. Their biggest impact comes in the form of cups. Their increasing issue with disposable cups has led to the company being heavily criticized by environmental groups. Starbucks has recently pledged to lessen the impact by introducing recyclable cups and reusable mugs. Although this may be great, their environmental impact is felt through many other mediums. Energy consumption and water waste are two major contributing factors to their water footprint and most importantly, greenhouse gas emissions. Illustrated in an educational essay written by Ivy Panda, “Starbucks uses dipper wells to wash coffee and utensils. The company also uses a lot of water to prepare its beverages. That being the case, water usage has remained another critical concern for Starbucks Coffee. Statistics show that Starbucks wastes over 6.2 million gallons of water every single day.” Their water consumption not only affects the environment, but also the water sources of communities that are being exploited. Their waste management techniques use large amounts of energy, thus contributing to excessive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Another massive industry leading coffee company is Dunkin’ Donuts. Their overall contribution to environmental decay was previously felt through their widespread use of styrofoam cups. These styrofoam cups were a massive issue until they introduced a plan to eliminate styrofoam, and replace it with a recyclable paper cup. In 2018 Dunkin’, “announced plans to eliminate all polystyrene foam cups in its global supply chain beginning in spring 2018 with a targeted completion date of 2020. Dunkin’ U.S. has replaced the foam cup with a new, double-walled paper cup. Dunkin’ completed this transition in early-May 2020. The elimination of foam is expected to remove approximately 1 billion foam cups from the waste stream annually.” This information can be found in an informational article posted by the company themselves titled Dunkin’ Sustainability Fact Sheet. Both Starbucks and Dunkin’ have complied with growing concerns and improved their environmental sustainability to improve the future of both companies. With these changes being implemented within the past 2 years, environmental groups await further statistics to confirm their compliance.
While Starbucks and Dunkin’ are mainly available in their countless coffee shops, Keurig and Maxwell House bring coffee to your kitchen each morning. Keurig and Maxwell House rely on the consumer to purchase their wide range of coffee pod products. Keurig being the lead manufacturer of which, selling approximately 30 billion K-Cups yearly. While Maxwell House is the smaller manufacturer, they hold a larger stake on their plans of fully compostable and recyclable pods compared to Keurig. Detailed in an article posted by Waste 360 titled, Kraft Heinz Releases Maxwell House Compostable Coffee Pods in Canada, the Head of Sustainability at Kraft Heinz, Nicole Fischer, details how they “recognize the significant concern packaging waste presents and we are working collectively at all levels of our operations to explore alternative solutions. Through ongoing collaboration with packaging experts, organizations and coalitions, Kraft Heinz Canada is working towards a circular economy to ensure real measures are taken to reduce single-use plastics and divert food waste from our landfills, limiting harmful impacts to our environment.” This goal will be hopefully achieved by 2025 as a part of Kraft Heinz’s aim to obtain a fully sustainable, fully recyclable product. Little can be said on Keurig’s part though. Feeling the pressure of creating a sustainable product, Keurig “announced that by the end of 2020, they will create a recyclable K-Cup pod made out of plastic #5 known as polypropylene plastic. You peel off the foil lid, compost or chuck the grounds and recycle the cup,” as detailed in an article called The curious, environmental case of the Keurig K-Cups (or what to do with them), written by Steve Scauzillo. Although this may be great for Keurig’s image, the “recyclable” K-Cup may not be completely recyclable. Scazillo continues by explaining that “only one-third of major recycling programs accept this kind of plastic. Also, just because a recycling facility accepts it, that doesn’t mean it gets recycled. That’s because this is a low value plastic. It cannot be made into another cup, unlike polyethylene terephthalate, commonly known as PET plastic, used in soda bottles that can be recycled into other plastic bottles.” This is bad news for the overall sustainability of Keurig’s newly implemented product. Both Maxwell House and Keurig have implemented new ways to transform their product for a more sustainable future, but their pasts may cast a dark shadow on the future of the environment. In Scauzillo’s article he detailed a particular study called The Story of Stuff Project held by a Berkeley environmental nonprofit. This study estimates that “the amount of K-Cups in landfills could wrap around the planet 10 times.” Is it too late to fix what’s already been done?
On a different side of the spectrum, the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade Certification are fighting to transform how we farm coffee beans from the very start. These extremely important improvements will refine how coffee is grown and harvested, while hopefully setting the standard for how changes should be made for the industry as a whole.
IvyPanda. (2021, August 4). Starbucks Company’s Environmental Impacts. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/starbucks-companys-environmental-impacts/
Dunkin’ Sustainability Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved December 7, 2021, from https://news.dunkindonuts.com/file/sustainability-fact-sheet?action=
Kraft Heinz releases Maxwell House Compostable Coffee Pods in Canada. Waste360. (2020, September 4). Retrieved December 7, 2021, from https://www.waste360.com/sustainability/kraft-heinz-releases-maxwell-house-compostable-coffee-pods-canada
Scauzillo, S. (2019, July 19). The curious, environmental case of the keurig K-cups (or what to do with them). San Gabriel Valley Tribune. Retrieved December 7, 2021, from https://www.sgvtribune.com/2019/07/19/the-curious-environmental-case-of-the-keurig-k-cups-or-what-to-do-with-them/