Day 41 - Some Surprising News About Coffee

It’s pretty common knowledge these days that the most environmentally-friendly food choice you can make is to buy locally grown and harvested food, whether it’s produce, dairy, meat, or fish.  However, even the most eco-conscious among us will typically make an exception for one particular food group.

Coffee.

If you’re living in the U.S., there’s really no such thing as “local” coffee.  At nearest, it’s probably coming from Central America, but can come from as far away as Africa.  If you already knew this, then you’ve probably already thought about the carbon footprint of your morning cup of joe.  Looking at each step of the coffee production process can give us a better idea of its real impact. 

Note: There’s a human rights component to coffee as well, which I’ll save for another post as it’s a complex issue that I’m still trying to get my head around. 

At the farm and mill level, there is the water that it takes to grow coffee, the electricity needed for machines and facilities, the petroleum-based agrochemicals involved, and the shipping to roasters.

The roasting process itself contributes about 15% of the carbon footprint of coffee, given the power needed to run roasting machines and light and power the facilities and offices.  Once the beans are roasted, they then need to be shipped again to cafes and distributors.

While the growing, shipping, roasting, and shipping again do contribute to the impact of coffee, you may be surprised to know that nearly 50% of its carbon footprint comes from cafes.  This makes sense if you think about it:  electricity to power, heat and cool spaces that deal with constant temperature fluctuations; machines that are plugged in all day, along with customer’s laptops and phone chargers; water needed to create each cup; wastage of coffee grounds; and a staggering amount of paper cups and plastic lids.        

Am I insinuating that we should all give up coffee and boycott our neighborhood cafes that we love so dearly?  No.  But I am suggesting that if we want to reduce our impact, we might think about drinking a little less coffee, or having it at home.  When we do go to cafes, let’s have our cup to stay in a non-disposable cup (which is a more elegant way to take coffee anyway), and linger over it like any self-respecting European would.  And at the very least, if we must take it to go, bring our own non-disposable coffee cup. 

Every little bit helps. 

Source article: Drinks Serious Eats