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Environmental issues in the coffee industry


Environmental issues in the coffee industry are a matter of concern. Coffee is one of the world’s most traded commodities; thus, it is manufactured and shipped worldwide.

Naturally, large-scale agricultural production will always face environmental problems – such as deforestation and poor farm management. Sustainable coffee was born as a solution to unite the coffee industry and nature. Let’s learn about environmental problems in the coffee industry and the answer to this age-old problem!


Environmental issues in coffee production


Many of the environmental problems in coffee production result from large-scale farming. Smallholder farmers provide about 80% of the world’s coffee production, but most of their farming area is 30 hectares or less. Their carbon footprint is minimal compared to larger coffee farms or multinational coffee constructions. Therefore, environmental problems are essentially the responsibility of coffee businesses, not small farmers.

There are many sustainability programs in place on coffee farms today, but there are still some environmental problems that stem from coffee production. In many cases, coffee is often transported to consuming countries on large cargo ships. The transport of coffee depends on fossil fuels to some extent.

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In addition to emissions, other issues also need to be comprehensively considered. Misuse or overuse of chemicals and agricultural inputs on farms can concern the environment. Large-scale abuse of these chemicals can lead to the deterioration of soil health, groundwater pollution, and eutrophication, destroying the balance of the general ecosystem.

Deforestation is also a problem for large-scale agriculture. It significantly devastates local wildlife habitat and threatens to accelerate the desertification of arable land. Around the world, an average of 13 million hectares of forests are lost yearly. Deforestation destroys animal, insect, and bird habitats and causes climate imbalance.


Environmental issues in coffee processing


Processing is essential to the preliminary processing, preservation, and export of coffee. Two popular methods are washed and natural. Natural treatment is the most environmentally friendly treatment technique, as it uses less energy and requires less water. Meanwhile, washed processed coffee requires a significant amount of water. This method can produce cleaner-tasting coffee but generates more wastewater than natural processing.

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In addition, high biological loads can lead to eutrophication, which causes phytoplankton, such as algae, to grow. It prevents oxygen and sunlight from reaching below the water’s surface, limiting growth and potentially killing fish and other wildlife.

Pulp is another by-product of coffee processing that needs to be considered. Like wastewater, the pulp can contaminate soil and water systems if not disposed of properly.


The impact of other elements of the supply chain on the environment


While coffee farmers may be encouraged to use more organic fertilizers or manage waste sustainably, environmental efforts in the coffee industry need to go beyond this. To lessen the harmful effects of the coffee business on the environment, all participants in the supply chain must assume greater accountability. Because not only manufacturing and exporting, other areas in the supply chain can affect the environment.

Carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions during roasting can act as greenhouse gases. While some modern coffee roasters now include built-in air recycling systems, older models typically release these gases into the atmosphere.

The volume of waste generated by cafes (incredibly disposable cups) is relatively high. Although there is a way to use recycled cups or other materials such as glass or ceramics, it seems to need fixing. Therefore, the amount of waste is not significantly reduced. They can be a ticking time bomb for the environment because their decomposition can take hundreds of years.

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Not only that, but other key industry stakeholders also need to be involved, as laws and policies can help advance conservation efforts in coffee production. For example, the European Union recently implemented mandatory due diligence rules for exporters and traders to gradually stop sourcing coffee linked to deforestation in the growing region.


Solutions to environmental problems in the coffee industry

As the effects of climate change continue to threaten the future of the coffee industry, sustainability efforts are now more critical than ever.


Solving environmental problems in coffee production


Some farmers are adopting more environmentally friendly agricultural practices, such as integrated farming and agroforestry. Growing coffee in the shade has produced higher-quality coffee while promoting biodiversity. It can also provide farmers with natural pest control methods, as birds and small animals can eat insects that interfere with coffee plant growth.

In addition, increasing the number of coffee trees planted in the shade will reduce deforestation, increase carbon dioxide uptake and reduce the need for more chemical inputs such as fertilizers.

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Regarding treatment methods, proper management techniques can help recycle or reuse wastewater and waste pulp. When properly treated, the wastewater can be used to irrigate coffee plants or can be replenished back into a local natural water source. Similarly, coffee grounds can be reused as biofuel or organic fertilizer when appropriately managed.

For many producers (mainly smallholder farmers), these changes can require significant financial investment, and they may wait to pay dividends. While organic farming may be more sustainable, it can also lead to lower yields, meaning producers may get less income.


Solutions to environmental problems in other stages of the supply chain


Larger coffee companies also have a crucial role in reducing their environmental impact. New concepts such as offset and carbon insetting have become more prominent in coffee production.

When a corporation is insetting, it is offsetting its emissions through a carbon offset project throughout a value chain, such as reforestation, agroforestry, renewable energy, and renewable agriculture. Companies are using a carbon install approach to bring sustainable practices into their value chains while reducing their carbon footprint.

While environmental sustainability at the farm level is undoubtedly necessary, it is essential to highlight the role of certifications. Certification programs are standard in the coffee industry, especially those that require coffee businesses to implement more sustainable practices. For example, organic certification has strict regulations for farmers – mainly related to not using input chemicals.

Many smallholders may have implemented organic measures on their coffee farms. However, because obtaining certifications can be expensive, some farmers may need help to be able to apply.

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Although some sustainable improvements have been made recently, it is evident that further legislative reforms, financial investments, and public awareness are required to solve some of the environmental problems connected to coffee. Nor can we ignore the financial implications of implementing these changes at the farm level – especially where smallholder farmers are involved.

Numerous studies highlight the startling complexity of the factors affecting certain crops, particularly coffee, and the effects of climate change. Therefore, we need to adapt to the changes and minimize the coffee industry’s impact, particularly on the environment.

For the coffee industry to develop sustainably, we need to be aware of the importance and urgency of harmonizing coffee – with the environment. Any act of destroying the environment needs to be condemned and regulated. Let’s change for the future of the industry.

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