February 28, 2018      3 min read

With coffee drinkers in every corner of earth, coffee has become a global commodity. Interestingly, it is the second most traded commodity, just behind oil. The demand for coffee has unearthed a multibillion dollar industry that shows no sign of slowing down. However, this global industry has not left the environment unscathed. In order to understand what changes can be made by those in the coffee industry, it’s important to realise how coffee growers are currently operating.

Waste from a Coffee Bean

When coffee is grown there are five components of the coffee cherry. It is comprised of the pulp, mucilage, parchment, silverskin and the bean. The coffee bean is the main component extracted for coffee production.  The other four parts often get tossed to the rubbish and forgotten about. Unfortunately, the coffee extraction process requires quite a lot of water. The excess amount of coffee plant waste infiltrates the water supply and the waste water systems aren’t able to cope with it. This results in a significant amount of water contamination, thus impacting the natural environment.

The Environmental Impact of Growing Coffee

The environment has also been damaged with the shift from shade-grown coffee. This was movement that occurred when diseases were impacting the coffee plant. It left farmers with minimal inventory control with the shade-grown method. To combat disease and to ensure a better inventory control, farmers shifted to more robust and disease-resistant coffee varieties. The only catch was that these varieties needed full sun to grow. Therefore, trees were chopped down and canopies depleted in many coffee growing countries such as Brazil, Costa Rica and Colombia.

Although the full-sun growing method works well and helped to secure inventory control for those in the coffee supply chain, it has had a very negative impact on the environment. The previous canopies and forests provided a rich bio-diverse home for birds and insects. The depletion of these resources has decreased natural habitats for many native species. Moreover, the soil health has also felt the brunt of aggressive coffee growing tactics. More fertiliser is needed to provide nutrients every year and more chemicals are needed to fight against invasive pests. After years of these practices, it has left the biodiversity and soil severely impacted by coffee growers.

How can the coffee industry improve?

The coffee industry is very powerful. It has the power to do harm and the power to do good things. It has an overarching influence that can be used for change to help the environment and shape how we manage the world’s coffee supply. So how will change happen? On a global scale, relationships and agreements will need to form to shift economic and political policies on coffee growing land. There must be protection and investment in restoring and maintaining the environment.

However, if you’re not an international policy maker, you can still make a difference for the environment. As a wholesaler or café owner, you can choose where you source your coffee beans. You can elect to choose sustainable, fair trade labels that promote viable farming practices. With better inventory control, you can order environmentally friendly coffee beans.

If possible, look into direct trade. With this type of trading buyers work directly with coffee farms to build business relationships, monitor growing practices and communicate about the status of the coffee beans. It is a more intimate and humane approach to securing your coffee inventory.

The industry needs your help. Consumers can show support by purchasing fair trade coffee, and buyers can look to purchase from more sustainable farms. In time, international pressure will give way to a more environmentally friendly coffee era.

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