Is my coffee habit ruining the environment? Since having a child my coffee habit has become my main source of debauchery, but hey that’s life, you have a child and instead of staying out to 4am you now get up at 4am. Conducting My Environmental Audit has meant I have this new tendency to pick apart almost every aspect of my life and question what impact it has on the environment and the world around me. I have been thinking about coffee’s impact on the planet for a while now, given that if I haven’t had one by 10am I end up with a banging headache and a temper that would match Alf Stewart’s, and by the day’s end I’ve usually had at least two to three barista style coffees.
- According to a study published in Bioscience, in 2002 more than 400 billion cups of coffee were consumed that year alone, and I can only imagine this has exploded exponentially in the last 17 years with the procreation of magic gulping hipsters and almond latte sipping yuppies.
- Coffee is ubiquitous, after crude oil, coffee is the most sought commodity in the world.
- WWF reports 2.5 million acres of forest in Central America have been cleared to make way for coffee farming.
- And, 37 out of the 50 countries with the highest deforestation rates are coffee growers.
- Australian’s spent $1.6 billion on coffee in 2016.
- Finland drinks the most coffee per capita in the world.
Traditionally, coffee originated from Africa and was grown as an understory shrub under the canopy of larger trees in the forest. More recently, Asia and South America have taken over as the largest producers of coffee beans worldwide and with that, a change in farming practices. More and more, coffee is now grown in full sun and while this method has higher yields there are also implications:
- Deforestation – the clearing of forests and jungles to make way for coffee farms, when previously coffee was harvested as an understory both could live harmoniously together.
- Deforestation leads to habitat destruction, species extinction and increased global warming.
- Monocultures – having only one species of plant produces a vast lack of biodiversity.
- This severe lack of biodiversity means the birds and animals that were keeping away populations of harmful insects are now non-existent. Enter pesticides.
- Pesticides pollute water, air and soils and reduce biodiversity.
According to the Guardian, coffee growers receive just 10 per cent of the end retail price of coffee. Coffee is mostly grown in developing countries and many farmers are severely affected by poverty and incredibly poor working conditions, i.e. modern-day slaves. Coffee farmers are often not paid a fair price for their produce, which can be deadly in the volatile coffee trade, where the yield of coffee is highly dependent on the weather. Climate change is having a huge impact on coffee farming, with changing weather patterns and increased pest activity leading to decreased production.
Latte, Cappuccino, Flat White….
And then of course there is the increased consumption of milk that comes with drinking coffee. It’s fairly well known now the dairy industry has a huge impact on the environment from deforestation to waste and pollution to increased greenhouse gases (just like coffee). According to the US EPA, 1L of milk is equivalent to approximately 2 kg of carbon dioxide. Read my post on Milk – Is there a sustainable choice? to find out more.
So what can I do to make more sustainable coffee choices?
- Limit coffee intake – cut down on overall consumption (within reason of course!)
- Purchase organic to minimise the use of pesticides.
- Purchase Fairtrade to minimise modern-day slavery.
- Purchase Rainforest Alliance coffee to minimise deforestation and limit sun-grown coffee.
- Drink long blacks or plant milk based coffee to minimise the use of animal products.
- Use a mug or reuseable cup to minimise waste.