How Does the Coffee You Drink Every Morning Effect the Environment?
Everybody loves fair trade coffee. You know, those thick brown bags of beans featuring photos of smiling chimpanzees or a drawing of the continent of Africa at the natural grocers. And while many fair trade coffee companies pride themselves on equitably sourcing their beans, this movement towards an “ethical” coffee often ignores issues that the coffee industry still faces.
The Coffee Industry Continues to Grow, Negatively Impacting the Environment
Yes, the coffee industry has become more sustainably green in the past few years–Starbucks recently invested in more sustainable packaging efforts; Caribou Coffee sources its beans from farms who use eco friendly farming practices.
But do the small improvements that niche coffee companies have made so far actually make a difference on coffee’s global environmental impact? Here are some of the issues that we’re talking about.
Full Sun Coffee Farming Decreases Biodiversity
At this point in our global coffee addiction, much of the cheap coffee beans that we consume are grown on coffee farms with no shade. While full sun coffee farms drastically increases yield, they cause a lack of biodiversity. Insect killing birds that would normally flock around the foliage in a coffee farm are no longer present, so pesticides take their place.
Research shows that more than ⅔ of the coffee grown in Vietnam and Brazil–the two biggest coffee producers in the world–is grown without shade.
As Coffee Farms Expand, Deforestation Results
In addition to erosion and a decrease in biodiversity, full sun coffee farms promote deforestation. A report from WWF shows that 37 of the 50 countries with the highest deforestation rates are also coffee producers. According to One Green Planet, 2.5 million acres of forest in Central America have been clear cut to make way for coffee farms.
This deforestation clear cuts the habitat for many animals, insects, and plants that called the rainforest home.
Human Impact Is Environmental Impact
Coffee is also really hard on the migrant workers and farm hands that work to produce the beans. Many migrant workers live in warehouse structures near the farms, without privacy, proper bathrooms, beds, or even blankets.
Coffee pickers often make as little as $2-3 a day, with no contract and no benefits like health insurance. Child labor is also an issue–according to Oxfam, 30% of coffee pickers in Kenya are under the age of 15.
What Can You Do to Help?
Bigger and cheaper brands are generally perpetuating negative effects, so invest in the future of the world by spending a bit more on smaller coffee brands.