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environment

Here’s how your cup of coffee contributes to climate change

36 Comments
By Luciano Rodrigues Viana, Charles Marty, Jean-François Boucher and Pierre-Luc Dessureault

Global coffee consumption has been increasing steadily for almost 30 years. With a daily average consumption of 2.7 cups of coffee per person, coffee is now Canada’s most popular drink. It is estimated that around two billion cups of coffee are consumed daily worldwide.

This demand has led to considerable diversification in the ways of preparing coffee as well, including the creation of coffee capsules. The popularity of these capsules has divided the public opinion because this method of preparation, which uses single-use individual packaging, is harmful to the environment.

As researchers at the University of Quebec working on assessing the environmental impacts of products and services, we often discuss coffee’s carbon footprint.

We decided to study the carbon footprint of several techniques used to prepare coffee at home, and it turns out that coffee capsules aren’t the biggest carbon culprits.

The life cycle of coffee

The pollution resulting from the preparation of coffee at home is just the tip of the iceberg.

Before you can enjoy a cup of coffee, it goes through several steps, starting from the agricultural production of the coffee beans, their transport, the roasting and grinding of the beans, right up to the heating of the water for the coffee and the washing of the cups it is poured in.

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

To adequately compare the carbon footprint of several coffee preparation methods, it is important to consider their entire life cycle: from the production of coffee, through the manufacture of packaging and machinery, to the preparation of coffee and the waste produced.

Comparing four coffee preparation methods

We decided to study this further and conducted an extensive literature review on the subject. We then measured the carbon footprint of coffee by comparing four methods of preparing 280 milliliters of coffee, namely:

1) Traditional filter coffee (25 grams of coffee)

2) Encapsulated filter coffee (14 grams of coffee)

3) Brewed coffee (French press) (17 grams of coffee)

4) Soluble coffee (12 grams of coffee), also known as instant coffee

Our analysis clearly showed that traditional filter coffee has the highest carbon footprint, mainly because a greater quantity of coffee powder is used to produce the amount of coffee. This process also consumes more electricity to heat the water and keep it warm.

Screen-Shot-2023-01-10-at-8.52.31.png

When consumers use the recommended amounts of coffee and water, soluble coffee appears to be the most environmentally friendly option. This is due to the low amount of soluble coffee used per cup, the kettle’s lower electricity consumption compared to a coffee maker and the absence of organic waste to be treated.

On the other hand, when consumers use a 20 per cent surplus of coffee and heat twice the water needed (which is often the case), coffee capsules seem to be the best option. Why? Because the capsules allow you to optimize the amount of coffee and water per consumption.

Compared to traditional filter coffee, drinking a capsule filter coffee (280 ml) saves between 11 and 13 grams of coffee. Producing 11 grams of Arabica coffee in Brazil emits about 59 grams of CO2e (CO2 equivalent). This value is much higher than the 27 grams of CO2e emitted for manufacturing of coffee capsules and sending the generated waste to a landfill. These figures give an idea of the importance of avoiding overusing and wasting coffee.

Coffee production

Regardless of the type of coffee preparation, coffee production is the most GHG-emitting phase. It contributed to around 40 per cent to 80 per cent of the total emission. There are many reasons for this.

The coffee plant is a small stunted tree or shrub that was traditionally grown in the shade of the forest canopy. The modernization of the sector led to the transformation of many coffee plantations into vast fields that were fully exposed to the sun. This added the need for intensive irrigation, fertilization systems and the use of pesticides.

This mechanization, irrigation and use of nitrous oxide-emitting fertilizers — the production of which requires large quantities of natural gas — greatly contribute to coffee’s carbon footprint.

Reducing coffee’s carbon footprint

At the consumer level, beyond reducing coffee consumption, avoiding wasting coffee and water is the most effective way to reduce the carbon footprint of traditional, brewed and soluble coffees.

Coffee capsules avoid the overuse of coffee and water. However, the convenience of capsule machines can lead consumers to double their coffee consumption, thus making this environmental advantage redundant. Consumers should also be aware of the capsule recycling options in the city where they live to avoid it getting sent to a landfill instead of a recycling facility. Better yet, they should switch to reusable capsules.

If you live in a province or country with carbon-intensive electricity production, not using the coffee maker’s hot plate and rinsing the cup with cold water can help reduce carbon footprint.

The electricity used to wash a cup of coffee in Alberta, a high-carbon electricity production province, emits more carbon (29 grams CO2e) than producing a coffee capsule and sending it to landfill (27 grams CO2e). In Québec, thanks to hydroelectricity, washing your cup in a dishwasher has a negligible impact (0.7 grams of CO2e per cup).

By the way, don’t forget to fill your dishwasher!

Shared responsibilities

Limiting your contribution to climate change requires an adapted diet, and coffee is no exception. Choosing a mode of coffee preparation that emits less GHGs and moderating your consumption are part of the solution.

However, more than half of the carbon footprint of coffee comes from the steps taken by coffee producers and suppliers. They must take action to reduce the environmental and social impacts of coffee production.

Our research reveals that assessments based on a life cycle analysis, or the holistic vision, of products like coffee make it possible to challenge our intuitive reasoning, which is sometimes misleading. So instead of avoiding products based on speculation, we need to take a holistic look at our own consumption habits. Change begins at home.

The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.

© The Conversation

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

36 Comments
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Yeah if other people would reduce their coffee intake it would allow me to increase mine.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

I just feel sorry for the folks that take this crap seriously.

8 ( +14 / -6 )

Why is it crap, Fizzbit, when all the workings and explanations are done for you? Is something amiss? Why not take your effect on the environment seriously? At least for the sake of other beings now and in the future, including your children.

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

I'm glad that I contribute to the greening of the planet in such a way: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/carbon-dioxide-fertilization-greening-earth/

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Never drink the stuff.

They didn’t allow for the resource and environmental impact of producing and scrapping all the whizzy machines you need to buy to make the coffe!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The concept of the carbon footprint is an emotionally manipulative scam. I'll have a large guilt-free cappucino, thanks.

5 ( +10 / -5 )

The title should be " How one cup of coffer "contributes to heart episode"

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

The pollution resulting from the preparation of coffee at home is just the tip of the iceberg.

No, and not only is there no tip resulting from coffee preparation, there is no iceberg.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

Some people just don't want to take any responsibility in or for their lives. Pretending not to care is a shield to protect them from responsibility and guilt. It leads inexorably to there is no meaning to life.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

I wonder how much coffee will be consumed at this week's WEF shindig at Davos.

Ya know, the event attended by the people who say you'll own nothing and be happy. The one they fly to in their private jets while telling the rest of us to cut back on our consumption of basically everything to save the planet. The same one where the people who'll be gorging themselves of expensive steaks will be telling the us future of food is eating ze bugs.

I might take these pronouncements seriously when the people who assume to make the rules follow them themselves.

So, never.

Time for another coffee.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

Why is it crap, Fizzbit, when all the workings and explanations are done for you? Is something amiss?

I'm guessing, but please correct me if you are wrong. I guess you access the internet through at least a Phone (not a PC of course) .You shop at a normal store for "stuff" (not meat or, coffee of course); you get to work somehow (not by my car, of course); you generally "consume" (not much of course, and wear hand-me-downs, buy nothing new); etc.

I'm afraid if you do ANY of these or other things, you are part of the problem. At least according to the WEF/UN and IPCC and other uneleted bodies.

As for me, I just copy what these bodies and elites do as much as possible. Now, give me another cup of coffee while I admire the view from my wicker chair on the white sands of paradise.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

"As researchers at the University of Quebec working on assessing the environmental impacts of products and services, we often discuss coffee’s carbon footprint."

What dept. do these "researchers" work in? Do they work in Philosophy, Gender Studies, Literature, because that seems to be suspiciously missing.

"We decided to study the carbon footprint of several techniques used to prepare coffee at home, and it turns out that coffee capsules aren’t the biggest carbon culprits."

The we here being the authors of this piece from "The Conversation" a non-science based "social justice blog" from their own site on Vice. None of the authors have a science background, they all have what they call "ally and activist" as their field of work.

So I dismiss this with the bs alarm it deserves.

2 ( +7 / -5 )

Environmental impact should be factored into the price paid. Worse than coffee is the almond milk boom. I think people have no idea how wasteful that is.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

MubaiR* What is wrong with almond milk, for pete's sake?

Please enlighten us.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Before you can enjoy a cup of coffee, it goes through several steps, starting from the agricultural production of the coffee beans, their transport, the roasting and grinding of the beans, right up to the heating of the water for the coffee and the washing of the cups it is poured in.These steps, common to all modes of coffee preparation, consume resources and emit greenhouse gases (GHG).

Bugger off....what beverage or supermarket / fast food product doesn't go through similar production / consumption steps?

You wanna live in neanderthal age - go ahead but stop trying to trigger a guilt trip in those people who drink coffee. Another woke BS.

If we are going to save the planet, people will have to stop driving cars, stop eating meat, (and, to be honest, stop having kids). These are the main things that will make a difference. Drinking coffee is neither here nor there in comparison."

Spot on.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

The we here being the authors of this piece from "The Conversation" a non-science based "social justice blog" from their own site on Vice. None of the authors have a science background, they all have what they call "ally and activist" as their field of work.

Making up false things about the authors do not decrase even one bit the validity of what is being presented.

A doctorate in enviromental science is a perfectly valid scientific degree so is a doctorate in biology or a Master degree in science.

It was very easy to demonstrate your "argument" is completely false, being in denial to avoid taking responsibility of your own actions is bad enougn, to accuse scientists and their arguments of not being authentic when they are is much worse.

As the article clearly argues this is the tip of the iceberg on climate change related to preferences. Just baselessly claiming the authors are wrong is not an argument, is just a bad excuse to do something that can be proved to be wrong.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

No, and not only is there no tip resulting from coffee preparation, there is no iceberg.

Please explain.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

They didn’t allow for the resource and environmental impact of producing and scrapping all the whizzy machines you need to buy to make the coffe!

Great point.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

They didn’t allow for the resource and environmental impact of producing and scrapping all the whizzy machines you need to buy to make the coffe!

Way, way back I did some backpacking in the mountains of southern Sinai. My group, 3 young man and 1 young woman, came upon a hospitable Bedouin. He invited us to drink coffee. As we sat around his fire he roasted coffee beans in a skillet, ground them, and boiled them in a pot. Not bad. Impact on the environment?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Way, way back I did some backpacking in the mountains of southern Sinai. My group, 3 young man and 1 young woman, came upon a hospitable Bedouin. He invited us to drink coffee. As we sat around his fire he roasted coffee beans in a skillet, ground them, and boiled them in a pot. Not bad. Impact on the environment?

You're right! Bedouins roasting coffee beans over a fire should have been their fifth category. I mean, surely that accounts for a huge percentage of cups of coffee made every day.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Carbon footprint is a manipulative diversion to induce guilt on the individual and away from industry.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

"As researchers at the University of Quebec working on assessing the environmental impacts of products and services, we often discuss coffee’s carbon footprint."

What dept. do these "researchers" work in? Do they work in Philosophy, Gender Studies, Literature, because that seems to be suspiciously missing.

The we here being the authors of this piece from "The Conversation" a non-science based "social justice blog" from their own site on Vice. None of the authors have a science background, they all have what they call "ally and activist" as their field of work.

None of that is true.

So I dismiss this with the bs alarm it deserves.

Seconded.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The same tired "arguments" of rejection from the incorrigibly irresponsible.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

vaxatharianJan. 14  08:57 am JST

The concept of the carbon footprint is an emotionally manipulative scam. I'll have a large guilt-free cappucino, thanks.

Same here, with an extra shot of espresso.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

No, and not only is there no tip resulting from coffee preparation, there is no iceberg.

Please explain.

Didn't think so.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

fatrainfallingintheforestJan. 14  08:12 pm JST

Please explain.

What wouldn't you understand from such statement?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

What wouldn't you understand from such statement?

How this statement that can be demonstrated false in the article have any kind of rational basis, no explanation obviously meaning there is no such thing.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

What wouldn't you understand from such statement?

I repeat: Didn't think so.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

There is nothing detrimental to supposed "climate change" from the coffee described here. Unless the same approach were to be taken towards the energy and resources used for the actual study.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

There is nothing detrimental to supposed "climate change" from the coffee described here. Unless the same approach were to be taken towards the energy and resources used for the actual study.

I'm afraid "The article is wrong," is not good enough. Prove it.

Come on, I want to know so I can continue my @3 cups a day habit without thinking about the possible environmental impacts.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

There is nothing detrimental to supposed "climate change" from the coffee described here. 

So what evidence do you have to disprove what the authors of the study proved? What expert's opinion on the method contradicts the conclusions reached? Obviously just claiming something based on an appeal to your own authority is invalid.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

You can't. It's fine, just say so.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Prove the article is right. 

The authors of the article provide their methods and data to do it,

You on the other hand claimed they are wrong, based on nothing, it is easy to see who is wrong here, and the authors of the report are not.

Obviously just claiming this "study" is right is an appeal to an authority that has not been proven.

On the contrary, the authors have perfectly valid degrees on scientific fields related to the their claims, they presented their sources of data, their methods how they support their conclusions. That means their appeal to authority is perfectly clear.

You on the other hand claim the study is wrong based on absolutely nothing, and can't even make an argument to defend that claim, just strawman trying to present the claims of the article as if they were made by the people commenting in it instead of the authors, something that appears to be the fallacy you always try to use in many topics.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

virusrexToday  01:22 pm JST

The authors of the article provide their methods and data to do it,

You on the other hand claimed they are wrong, based on nothing, it is easy to see who is wrong here, and the authors of the report are not.

It is evident that you are a neophyte in the realms of science based on you blindly following a non-peer reviewed study, that is basically someone's homework on steroids.

But--believe what you want to believe. And make a statement and give up coffee if you truly believe in this Quebec academic exercise.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It is evident that you are a neophyte in the realms of science based on you blindly following a non-peer reviewed study, that is basically someone's homework on steroids.

The report clearly mentions the peer review studies used to get these conclusions, for example

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jiec.12487

You have made not even a single argument to rebuke what the authors of this article conclude, you claimed their authority is not valid, even when it was very easy to prove it, and now make personal attacks when the primary sources clearly refute your claims. That can only mean you are now recognizing you have been mistaken and now are breaking the rules on purpose so your comment is eliminated.

This could easily be prevented by not making a mistaken claim on the first place.

There is no need to believe anything, the science supporting this article is clear, you have not been able to offer argument or evidence to refute it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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