Updated: Jun 15
Coffee cups everywhere and the plantations are overwhelmed, so how do you make the process sustainable?
Coffee, cafes and insane coffee orders are everywhere! But have you ever stopped to think about the environmental effects caused due to coffee production? Given that most coffee-growing regions are also home to some of the most delicate ecosystems on earth, some of these impacts cause serious damage. The biggest source of environmental damage where coffee is concerned comes during the production of the beans themselves. The global surge in demand has had a profound effect on the growing methods used with massive implications for sustainability. Let’s see the effects of the coffee industry and how you can still get your ethical caffeine kick!
The Environmental Impacts of Unsustainable Coffee Production
1) Sun-Grown Coffee and Deforestation:
Originally, coffee was grown in delicate ecosystems or tropical areas with different flora that contribute to the diversity and shade creates habitations for indigenous animals and insects. A rise in global demand caused an increasing need for plantations and ‘sun cultivation’, removing the shady trees and habitats. Sun-grown coffee creates the highest yield but eliminates the diversity of plants which support insects and animals. WWF has provided stats that 37, out of 50 countries with high deforestation rates, produce coffee.
(Also Read: The birds, the bees, and why nature depends on these)
2) Water Pollution:
Coffee processing plants often discharge waste into rivers creating pollution and contamination problems that can cause eutrophication of the water systems and kill aquatic plants and animals. Contamination of waterways also poses serious environmental threats from the processing of coffee beans. Discharges from coffee processing plants represent a major source of river pollution. Ecological impacts result from the discharge of organic pollutants from the processing plants to rivers and waterways, triggering the eutrophication of water systems and robbing aquatic plants and wildlife of essential oxygen.
3) Agro Chemical Usage
Sun-grown coffee often employs intensive pesticides and chemicals that present serious health and ecological concerns.
Waste- The process of separating the beans from the coffee cherries generates enormous volumes of waste material in the form of pulp, residual matter, and parchment.
Affects Soil Quality- The removal of trees and the impact of the sun degrade soil quality and lead to higher levels of erosion, on renovated coffee plantations where vegetation has been reduced.
Traditionally coffee has been cultivated under shaded trees, which provides a habitat for indigenous animals and insects as well as prevents topsoil erosion and the use of chemical fertilizers. Due to increased demand, sun-grown cultivation was chosen. However, by purchasing brands that are cautious of biodiversity we can make a change.
(Also Read: Time for a ‘Perma’nent Culture Change in India)
What is Shade-Grown Coffee?
Going back to the traditional method of production, coffee is typically cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas at high elevations and naturally grows under a shaded canopy of trees. Traditional coffee-growing techniques contribute to high biodiversity levels, thus creating a “working landscape” where farmers can grow coffee and make a living while contributing to conservation efforts. The shelter from canopies also provides a valuable habitat for indigenous animals, as well as preventing topsoil erosion and removing the need for chemical fertilizers. An environmentally favoured alternative to sun-grown coffee is shade-grown coffee. In this method, coffee plants are interspersed beneath a canopy of mature trees, mimicking the way coffee grows naturally in these regions. the presence of vegetation amongst coffee plants reduces the need for intense herbicide preparations, supports at least 50% of the original forest snakes and spider fauna, and protects topsoil effectively.
Here are some sustainable brands we recommend:
Halli Berri Coffee
Higher Ground Roasters
Moore, V. (2021, May 22). Environmental Impact of Coffee Production - Facts and Figures. Sustainable Business Toolkit.
Makeovers, E. (2020, January 14). How does coffee affect the environment. Energy Makeovers.
Reporter, G. S. (2020, September 23). How green is your coffee? The Guardian.