Here’s how your cup of coffee is contributing to climate change

With an average daily consumption of 2.7 cups of coffee per person, coffee is now Canada’s most popular beverage.

It is estimated that around two billion cups of coffee are drunk worldwide every day.

This demand has led to considerable diversification in coffee preparation methods, including the creation of coffee capsules.

The popularity of these capsules has divided public opinion, as this method of preparation, which uses single-use individual packaging, is harmful to the environment.

As researchers working to assess the environmental impacts of products and services, we often discuss the carbon footprint of coffee.

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

The life cycle of coffee

The pollution resulting from making coffee at home is only the tip of the iceberg.

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

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

For an adequate comparison of the carbon footprint of several coffee preparation methods, it is important to take into account their entire life cycle: from coffee production to the production of packaging and machinery to coffee preparation and the waste produced.

Comparison of 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) Instant 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 more coffee powder is used in its production. amount of coffee.

This process also uses more electricity to heat the water and keep it warm. When consumers use the recommended amount of coffee and water, instant coffee appears to be the greenest option.

This is due to the small amount of soluble coffee used per cup, the lower electricity consumption of the kettle compared to the coffee machine and the absence of organic waste to process.
On the other hand, when consumers use a 20% excess of coffee and heat twice the amount of water needed (which is often the case), coffee capsules seem like the best option.

Why? Because capsules make it possible to optimize the amount of coffee and water for consumption.
Compared to traditional filtered coffee, drinking capsule filtered coffee (280 ml) saves 11 to 13 grams of coffee.

Producing 11 grams of Arabica coffee in Brazil releases about 59 grams of CO2e (CO2 equivalent).
This value is much higher than the 27 grams of CO2e emitted during production coffee capsules and sending the resulting waste to a landfill.

These numbers give an idea of ​​how important it is to avoid overuse and waste of coffee.

Coffee production

Regardless of the type of coffee preparation, coffee production is the phase with the highest greenhouse gas emissions.
It accounted for about 40 to 80 percent of total emissions. There are many reasons.

The coffee tree is a small dwarf tree or shrub that was traditionally grown in the shade of the forest canopy.

The modernization of the sector led to the conversion of many coffee plantations into vast fields that were fully exposed to the sun.

This added to the need for intensive irrigation, fertilization and pesticide use.
This mechanization, irrigation, and the use of nitrous oxide-releasing fertilizers—which require large amounts of natural gas to produce—contribute significantly to coffee’s carbon footprint.

Reducing the carbon footprint of coffee

At the consumer level, in addition to reducing coffee consumption, the most effective way to reduce the carbon footprint of traditional, brewed and instant coffee is to avoid wasting coffee and water.
Coffee capsules prevent excessive use of coffee and water.

However, the convenience of capsule machines can lead consumers to double their coffee consumption, making this environmental benefit redundant.

Consumers should also be aware of the recycling options for capsules in the city where they live to avoid sending them 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 generation, not using the coffee maker’s hotplate and rinsing your cup with cold water can help reduce your carbon footprint.

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

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

Shared responsibility Limiting your contribution to climate change requires a tailored diet, and coffee is no exception. Part of the solution is choosing a coffee preparation method that releases fewer greenhouse gases and reducing consumption.

However, more than half of coffee’s carbon footprint comes from the actions of coffee producers and suppliers. They must take measures to reduce the environmental and social impacts of coffee production. Our research reveals that assessments based on life cycle analysis or a holistic vision of products such as coffee allow us to challenge our intuitive reasoning, which is sometimes misleading. So instead of avoiding products based on speculation, we need to look at our own consumer habits holistically. Change starts at home.

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