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Climate Crisis and Coffee - A Work in Progress

Nicole K

Posted on June 05 2019

There is a push for sustainability in coffee production, the full gammit: from growing it, roasting it, packaging it, consuming it and disposing of the spent grounds. All of these processes have environmental, social and economic impact issues that are being identified, researched and more environmentally friendly options are slowly becoming available.

In the 1970s most coffee was grown under forest canopy but now the aim is for much higher yields, therefore a large numbers of farmers turned to sun-grown coffee varieties. This led to deforestation, soil erosion, loss of wildlife habitat, increased need for chemicals, soil depletion, and water pollution. This environmental destruction, in turn, hurt farmers and their communities. 

The roasting process is the main source of gaseous pollutants. Because roasters are typically natural gas-fired, carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions result from fuel combustion. It is very complex and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) have implemented very strict regulations for the coffee roasting industry. Emissions from the grinding and packaging operations typically are not vented to the atmosphere.

Following roasting, the beans are cooled and stabilised. Then the roasted beans are packaged, usually in light-resistant foil bags fitted with small one-way valves to allow gasses to escape while protecting the beans from moisture and oxygen.

The foil packaging contains a metalised plastic film (MPET) that can't be recycled in soft plastic options such as Redcyle. The metalised film is added because of the long shelf-life and it helps keep oxygen out. Coffee packaging needs to be air-tight, it's main job is to keep oxygen out as it will affect the taste of the coffee.

While we want to move towards sustainability in our packaging, we also need to continue to offer the same quality, fresh coffee product and sturdy packaging that we currently offer in a traditional foil-lined coffee bag, which isn't recyclable. Often in order for biodegradability, compostability or recyclability to be achieved, it typically means using packaging that doesn’t have the correct barrier properties to protect and maintain the quality of the coffee beans it carries. This means consumers could receive stale coffee and we don't want that.

We've actively avoided the capsule market - sorry nespresso lovers - we encourage people to bring in their own refillable coffee containers, and we encourage kilo bags, rather than numerous smaller bags.  With these items heading straight to landfill we need to try and minimise it whenever possible!

Having your coffee in or bring your own reusable cup is definitely on the rise however, plastic usage and its environmental impact are not issues that are going to disappear over night.

The spent coffee can be composted and many recycling operations are now accepting it. Used coffee grounds are full of nutrients for the garden so don't send you're spent coffee to landfill - compost it.

We will keep listening to our customers, researching new methods and adapting to more environmentally-friendly ways in the future and we will still offer a great tasting cup of coffee.

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