What Is the Level of Negative Impact that One Cup of Coffee Has on the Environment

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

The beverage that awakens us in the morning, and in the afternoon served with some treat, restores our desire for life. Probably some for us, though rare ones, while drinking their daily dose of coffee, thought about how much the influence it has on the environment, instead of “Ugh, does an alternative economic system exist in which we do not have to get up early in the morning to earn money for food?”. Or eight o’clock in the morning is only my notion of “early dawn” as well as this thought is just mine?

Anyhow, today I am dealing exactly with that – how much collateral damage is made by seemingly harmless habit.

Consequences on biodiversity

Coffee thrives in tropical and subtropical climates at high altitudes. It grows in the shade of tree trunks, and with plants and animals from the environment contributes to the enrichment of biodiversity.

Due to increased market demands, since the 1970s, coffee has been cultivated in sunny conditions on plantations. With the necessary fertilization, this technique creates higher yields, but eliminates the diversity of flora and fauna.

Photo-illustration: Pixabay


Imagine a reddish juicy cherry that has a grain of coffee in its center, instead of a seed. Its way to your coffee pot starts exactly in this form. The process of separating a greenish-blue grain from a thick, bitter velum and sweeter interior results in an enormous amount of residues, pulp and parchment.

During the six months of 1988, the processing of about 547 thousand tons of coffee in Latin America produced 1.1 million tons of cellulose waste and polluted 110 thousand cubic meters of water per day.

Due to the recognition of the problem of waste in coffee production, in recent years we have witnessed significant progress in the field of its solution – coffee husks are composted and mixed with animal manure, and used to stimulate the growth of agricultural crops.

Carbon footprint

Carbon footprint is a measure of total greenhouse gas emissions directly or indirectly caused by individuals, products, companies or events. Or in our case – a cup of coffee. Its measuring unit is CO2e.

What is the participation of different types of this beverage in the production of pollutant

  • 21g CO2e – black coffee, if you boil the exact amount of water you need;
  • 53g CO2e – white coffee if you boil the exact amount of water you need;
  • 71g CO2e – white coffee if you boil twice he amount of water you need;
  • 235g CO2e – big cappuccino;
  • 340g CO2e – big latte.

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

Although compared to the pollution dimension of heating systems and vehicles, the contribution of coffee is very small – it is not imperceptible. If we drink four cups of black coffee in one day, we will surely drop 30kg of carbon compounds in a year in the atmosphere, as much as a car that has crossed about 65km. Three big latte coffee a day? The amount of harmful substances, for which we are responsible due to this simple ritual of caffeine use, is increased up to twenty times and equals to that one produced by a plane that has crossed half of the European continent.

The biggest impact on the has – milk, which is a common culprit for two-thirds of the total footprint of coffee with this addition – more than growing coffee and boiling water together.

One of the reasons for the share of milk in the carbon footprint is that it comes from cows that emit a high level of methane as ruminants, about 23 times more dangerous gas compared to carbon dioxide.

An obvious way to reduce the harmful effect of your cup on the environment is to reduce or avoid milk in preparation. This will adversely affect its nutritional value, but we could compensate for lost calories with biscuits or chocolate. I recommend white Delhaize with coconut and cornflakes. Thank me later! Someone who is more persistent in proper nutrition than me could completely skip additional treats – and carbon pollution.

Water pollution

Coffee bean processing is a serious ecological threat to watercourses. The main source of pollution are plants for processing. The release of harmful organic matter from the plant causes the algal blooming of water and “steals” the oxygen from plants and animals settled there.

Photo-illustration: Pixabay


Because of the presence of other plants, traditional cultivation technique relie on a much smaller amount of chemicals than industrial plants. “Sunburn” coffee requires an intensive use of pesticides that cause the risk for the health of people and the health of nature.

A non-profit research organization, the World Resources Institute, conducted a survey that revealed a high level of exposure of people to harmful pesticide influence in Latin America and other developing countries. The removal of coffee from the shade of trees to the Sun is related to the increased use of nitrogen fertilizers that participate in the nature pollution.


Replacing traditional, supposedly inefficient, coffee-growing methods – with the sunny one – was fatal for 2.5 million hectares of forest capacity, only in Latin America. Uncontrolled wood logging threatens the ecosystem, atmospheric dynamics and the quality of water quality.

Soil quality

The consequences of newly introduced agricultural practices in growing coffee have effects on the soil as well. Soil parameters have changed, and plantations of reduced vegetation also face erosion.

Jelena Kozbasic