This is how your coffee contributes to climate change

This is how your coffee contributes to climate change

Enjoy your coffee well. It has cost the environment quite dearly.

ANALYSIS – World coffee consumption has been steadily increasing for nearly 30 years. It is estimated that approximately two billion cups of coffee are consumed daily worldwide. With an average daily consumption of 2.7 cups of coffee per person, coffee is without a doubt the most popular drink among Canadians.

Along with this sustained increase in consumption, the coffee maker market has become much more diversified. Among them, capsule coffee makers are very successful, dividing public opinion. This method of preparation is indeed considered ecological nonsense, due to the large quantity of single-use individual packaging used.

As researchers working on the assessment of the environmental impacts of products and services, questions about the environmental impacts caused by the consumption of capsule coffee are often addressed to us. We have therefore decided to make a compilation of several scientific studies on the carbon footprint of preparing coffee.

In this article, we present the carbon footprint of different ways of preparing coffee. and also give some tips to reduce their impact.

The life cycle of brewing a cup of coffee

The pollution caused by brewing our cup of coffee at home is just the tip of the iceberg.

Before you can enjoy a cup of coffee, several steps are necessary, such as the agricultural production of the green coffee beans, their transport, the roasting and grinding of the beans, the heating of the water for coffee and washing cups.

These steps, common to all methods of coffee preparation, consume resources and emit greenhouse gases (GHG).

To adequately compare the carbon footprint of several methods of preparation of a coffee, it is imperative to take into account their entire life cycle; from the production of coffee, through the manufacture of packaging and machinery, to the preparation of coffee and the end of life of waste.

Comparison of four methods of preparing coffee

We compared four methods of preparing coffee (280 ml):

  • Coffee traditional filter (25 grams of coffee)
  • Encapsulated coffee (14 grams of coffee)
  • Infused coffee – French press (17 grams of coffee)
  • Soluble coffee or instant coffee (12 grams of coffee)

The results of our analysis clearly indicate that traditional filter coffee has the highest carbon footprint, due to a greater amount of coffee used. The carbon footprint of the method of preparation is in fact strongly influenced by the quantity of coffee used and the carbon intensity of the electricity required to operate electrical appliances (coffee maker, kettle and dishwasher).

This-is-how-your-coffee-contributes to climate change

The carbon footprint of several ways to prepare coffee at home. (Luciano Rodrigues Viana)./Photo provided by the author

When consumers use the recommended amounts of coffee and water, soluble coffee appears to be the most low-carbon option. This is due to the lower amount of coffee used per cup, the lower power consumption of a kettle, compared to a coffee maker, and the absence of waste that needs to be treated at the end of its life.

On the other hand, capsule coffee is not such a disastrous option for the environment.

Why? Because the capsules allow to reduce the quantities of coffee, electricity and water used during the preparation of a coffee. Drinking a coffee capsule saves between 11 and 13 grams of coffee compared to a traditional filter coffee. However, the production of 11 grams of Arabica coffee in Brazil emits, on average, about 59 grams of eq. CO₂ (CO2 equivalent). This value is much higher than the 27 grams of eq. CO2 emitted during the manufacture and burial of a plastic capsule. These figures give an idea of ​​the importance of avoiding overconsumption and wastage of coffee.

Numbers in perspective

The carbon footprint of coffee consumption is significant. Indeed, the carbon budget available for each inhabitant of the earth, established with the aim of respecting the climate agreements, is 2.1 t eq. CO₂ per year.

For comparison, emissions related to the consumption of 2.7 cups per day and per capita represent 5-10 % of this budget in Quebec and 8-16 % in Alberta (where the electricity is very carbonaceous).

This-is-how-your-coffee-contributes to climate change

Photo: Battlecreek Coffee Roasters/Unsplash

Producing Green Coffee Beans

However you brew your coffee , grain production is the most GHG-emitting phase. It contributes 40 to 80% of total emissions. There are several reasons for this.

The coffee tree is a shrub that is traditionally grown in the shade of the forest canopy. Nevertheless, with the increase in demand and the modernization of the sector, many traditional plantations have been transformed into vast fields fully exposed to the sun. These fields require irrigation systems and intensive fertilizer and pesticide application.

Agricultural work, irrigation and the use of nitrogen fertilizers – the production of which requires large amounts of natural gas and the use of which emits nitrous oxide, a powerful GHG – contribute significantly to the carbon footprint of coffee bean production.

How can we reduce the carbon footprint of our cup of coffee?

At the consumer level, avoid wasting coffee and water is the most effective way to reduce the carbon footprint of traditional, brewed and instant filter coffees. In this sense, it is advisable to opt for smaller coffee preparations, such as 50 or 100 ml espressos.

Capsule machines have the advantage of avoiding excessive preparation of coffee and water. However, if the convenience of capsule machines encourages consumers to double their consumption, then they lose all environmental relevance. Consumers should also find out about recycling options for capsules in the city where they live to prevent them from being sent to landfills. Even better, fans of this style of coffee can opt for reusable capsules.

If you live in a province where electricity production is very carbon-intensive, the heating plate should not be used coffee pots and rinsing your cup of coffee with cold water.

The electricity used to wash a cup of coffee in Alberta, a province where electricity generation is based on coal and natural gas, emits more GHGs (29 grams of CO2 eq.) than manufacturing one coffee capsule and sending it to landfill (27 grams of CO2 eq.). In Quebec, thanks to hydroelectricity, washing your cup in the dishwasher has a negligible impact (0.7 gram of CO2 eq. per cup).

Return to questions our intuitive reasoning to act better

Not using capsules makes us feel good as coffee consumers. But concentrating the debate around capsules is counterproductive, as it obscures the most effective actions to reduce the carbon footprint associated with individual coffee consumption. Life cycle analyzes (LCA) have the advantage of identifying the most polluting phases of the production chain and their results sometimes challenge our intuitive reasoning, which is sometimes misleading.

< p>Above all, it is important to limit wastage and over-preparation of coffee, especially since coffee production will probably be affected in the future. Climate change could indeed reduce the global area of ​​land suitable for coffee production by around 50% by 2050, in a context where demand will triple.

Even if coffee consumers have a role to play in reducing their carbon footprint, it is mainly the governments of coffee-producing countries and multinational companies that must create the economic and technical conditions necessary for the emergence coffee production less dependent on irrigation systems, fertilizers and pesticides, while avoiding deforestation.

Text by Luciano Rodrigues Viana, Charles Marty, Jean -François Boucher and Pierre-Luc Dessureault of the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi (UQAC)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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