Brewing climate change? What your morning joe means for a warming world


A brewing climate crisis may be coming after your morning joe, with new research suggesting that global coffee production faces an “increasing challenge” from extreme weather events.

A study published in the PLOS Climate journal on March 8 showed that climate change has resulted in sub-optimal growing conditions — heat waves, droughts, frosts and floods — which means coffee production can expect “ongoing systemic shocks.”

That release follows research earlier this year that also suggested the way you prepare your coffee and your consumption habits could be contributing to climate change.

Researchers at the University of Quebec analyzed the amount of carbon emissions from four different coffee preparation methods.

They used life cycle assessment which helps translate production into pollution, with data on machine manufacturing, capsules, packaging and emissions related to the agricultural phase.

A final version of their study is yet to be published but they shared part of that scientific paper in an article on The Conversation in January.

They found that drip filter coffee had the highest carbon emissions because a higher content of ground coffee is used to prepare the drink and it also uses up more electricity.

In their analysis, brewed coffee using a French press, on average, emitted the second-highest amount of carbon dioxide.

Instant or soluble coffee was the greenest option with the lowest carbon footprint when the recommended amount of coffee and water were used per cup, the research suggested.

Pods or capsules proved to be the best choice when other methods used 20 per cent surplus of coffee and double the amount of water needed.

“Since capsules generally use less coffee per preparation, they have an advantage,” said Luciano Rodrigues Viana, a PhD student in environmental sciences at the University of Quebec in Chicoutimi (UQAC).

However, they are worse for the environment because they are thrown in the waste, he told Global News.

Their analysis adds to previous research comparing the environmental impacts of coffee-making methods.

A 2009 study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production showed drip filter coffee had the highest environmental impacts on a per-cup basis.

Whereas instant coffee was a more environmentally-friendly option than capsules.

Regardless of how you prepare your coffee, the production of coffee is the most greenhouse gas-intensive phase, according to Viana.

This is because of the modernization of the agriculture sector, with coffee fields requiring intensive irrigation, fertilizer and pesticide application — all of which can release greenhouse gas emissions.

When it comes to tea, for every kilogram produced, more greenhouse gases are emitted compared to coffee, said Viana.

However, since more coffee is needed to prepare the same quantity of drink, for every litre consumed, roasted and ground coffee can emit up to four times more greenhouse gases than tea.

You don’t have to stop drinking coffee to save the planet, says Viana.

The most effective way at the consumer level is avoiding waste of coffee and water.

Governments and multinationals have a bigger role to play in fighting climate change.

Viana said coffee-producing countries and companies should create the “economic and technical conditions necessary for the emergence of coffee production that is less dependent on irrigation systems, fertilizers and pesticides, while avoiding deforestation.”

Reintroducing traditional shade coffee plantation, using organic and mineral fertilizers and installing biodigesters for wastewater treatment can also help.

To limit the environmental impact of disposable cups, the use of recyclable and reusable ones should be encouraged, he said.

Canada has started rolling out a ban on single-use plastics in an effort to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030.

The ban on the manufacture and import of plastic ring carriers (often used for beverage containers) will go into force in June 2023, and their sale will be banned in June 2024.

As part of that push, restaurants in Canada have started introducing eco-friendlier options.

In December 2022, Tim Horton’s started a 12-week trial run in Vancouver for fibre hot beverage lids that are plastic-free and recyclable.

This year, the coffee chain has also started introducing wooden and fibre cutlery that are compostable.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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