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How green is your coffee?

According to the Guardian coffee growing and its process is the second largest tradable agricultural product after oil. The coffee industry is booming. Around 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed every day. 

Coffee beans are planted and grown into trees that produce a little fruit which look a lot like cherries. It’s the seeds inside the fruit that we use for making coffee. It goes through a processing station and once given the OK, is shipped out to various destinations across the world. 

Unfortunately most of this process is destructive to the environment. The demand and pressure for coffee is increasing and therefore processes aren’t as environmentally friendly as they could be. 

  • Plantations are deforesting large areas of land and are implementing ruthless practices that are damaging surrounding ecosystems. Years ago, coffee was grown under the shade of tree canopies and amongst other plants, but now, there’s a demand to increase the coffee plant's exposure to sunlight, therefore cutting down even more trees and impacting local wildlife and plant species. The WWF have reported that 2.5 million acres of forest in Central America have been cleared to make way for coffee farming. 
  • In some areas, only one type of coffee bean plant is being grown, therefore putting other plants at risk; growing them together helps to reduce the risks of illness and disease. 
  • They also need a lot of water to grow. According to – it takes 140 litres of water to produce just one cup of coffee. The process of producing and brewing coffee is water intensive.
  • It also leads to more plastic waste; According to Parliament UK, 2.5 billion cups are thrown away each year – enough to stretch around the world roughly five and a half times. 
  • Coffee plants are also really sensitive to changes in climate – so we could see an increase in prices over time as the plants become harder to grow. 

Then there’s the complexities within the supply chain:

  • On average, third world coffee farmers receive a measly 10% of the eventual retail price. 
  • Gender equality is another area in need of improvement. The Rainforest Alliance reports that female coffee farms produce less than males, purely because they are not given as much access to resources!
  • Child Labour is another social issue to consider. In some countries, children are used as cherry pickers on plantations. 
  • Shortages of coffee supplies; rising production costs
  • Reduction of land and labour, food security and an increase in poverty for producers and their families; unstable prices have a damaging impact on education, housing and healthcare. 

So, what can we do to help? 

  • Use our own mugs! Resist the temptation to have a takeaway coffee.
  • Buy Fairtrade where possible. Fairtrade gets rid of the ‘middleman’ and gives farmers a chance to deal directly with the retailers and therefore negotiate their own deals and pricing. 
  • Look for the Rainforest Alliance Certified Trademark: This means the product was 
  • produced in collaboration and harmony with farmers, foresters and companies.
  • Avoid disposable coffee pods. If you buy them, try to choose companies that offer a recycling service, or purchase reusable/refillable coffee pods. 
  • Get a reusable filter; look for TCF or PCF free labels (chlorine free). Use a French press, a reusable pour over coffee drip filter, AeroPress or a Moka Pot. Brew your coffee manually! 
  • Think more about your coffee and where it comes from. Find café’s and brands that treat their craft, coffee, farmers and the environment with respect. 
  • Spread the word; I never knew coffee could have such an impact on the environment – talk to others, spread awareness and educate. 

I love my coffee and don’t believe in cutting it out of my life entirely – I need my caffeine! But I can educate myself and make small changes to help, and that’s what matters. Every step, no matter how big or small, is important.