November 18, 2019      < 1 min read

Coffee is a multibillion dollar industry and continues to grow, in fact it is the world’s second most tradable commodity after oil. With consumer’s purchasing power it is making the industry more ethical in terms of fair trade coffee and country of origin. However few people realise how much the coffee industry impacts on the environment negatively. If your business is part of the coffee supply chain, read on to find out how you can contribute to protecting the environment, and what role your inventory management has to play in this.

Waste in the Coffee Industry

There are two main methods of growing coffee. The first being the most traditional method, where coffee is cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas at high elevations, and under shaded canopy trees. This environment safeguards against topsoil erosion and decreases the need for chemical fertiliser. However, the increased demand in coffee has lead to the use of sun cultivation techniques. This is where coffee is produced on plantations, where deforestation has occurred. The combination of use of fertiliser in this method creates a higher yield of coffee – up to five times more than its traditional counterparts. However, this deforestation has had a knock on effect on the surrounding environment.

A recent study found that, from seed to coffee cup, each cup of coffee uses about 140 litres of water, which takes into account water used for irrigation, processing and shipping, as well as for consumption. This figure is significantly higher for coffee grown in full-sun versus that grown under shade cover. Processing coffee beans also contaminate the waterways, posing a significant threat to the environment. Irrespective of how coffee is grown, discharges from coffee processing plants represent a major source of river pollution; water milling processing of coffee has been found to contaminate up to 40 times more water than your average urban sewer wastage. There is also an enormous amount of waste produced during the manufacturing of coffee. The process of separating the beans, which is the primarily commercial product from the coffee cherries generates vast volumes of waste material in the form of pulp, residual matter and parchment.

Greening the Coffee Industry

The good news is that more and more uses are being discovered for coffee byproducts, meaning not only can we help protect the environment, but coffee can further provide opportunities for economic growth. A recent study discovered that the pulp is an extremely valuable resource for farmers in other ways. Coffee pulp could replace up to 20% of the commercial concentrates used in cattle feed with no consequent difference in weight gain or nutritional content. Doing this could provide a 30% saving in costs of animal feed, suggesting coffee pulp has potential to enhance the agricultural economy in coffee-growing countries. In addition, coffee pulp, once dried and partially fermented, is also a substrate for growing exotic mushrooms. For example, a shiitake mushroom normally takes months to grow—but, with help from coffee byproducts, it can take just a few weeks. This can produce a source of secondary income; according to the New Agriculturist, coffee farmers facing hardship in Tanzania have increased their income by selling high-value oyster mushrooms. Due to the coffee byproduct aiding mushroom growth, they can be grown and harvested all year round. The sale of them has even helped fund school fees and the addition of livestock to farmers’ land.

A London-based company, Bio Bean is contributing to offsetting the detrimental effects of the coffee industry. They have developed a technique to turn used coffee grounds into an advanced biofuel, as well as biomass pellets. They claim that biofuel is capable of powering vehicles, while the biomass pellets are able to heat homes and shops. This provides eco-friendly heating options, but it also offers a way to significantly cut down London’s coffee waste. Projections show that Bio-Bean should be able to repurpose 30,000 tons of the city’s discarded coffee. It’s estimated that London wastes 200,000 tons of coffee; that is about a 15% reduction in waste.

How Can Inventory Management Play a Part?

Inventory management can be used as a powerful tool in this industry to help aid in the manufacturing processes of growing coffee berries to manufacturing the bean, to byproducts. With technological advances, there is a real opportunity to shape the coffee industry in a more environmentally friendly way by keeping tabs off all aspects of the manufacturing process. From once what was seen as coffee wastage can now be used to benefit the planet in the form of byproducts. Inventory management systems can help turn what can be conveyed as a complex web of processes to a centralised system with many benefits. The economic opportunity is also enormous considering what positive impacts coffee byproducts can have.

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