How to Choose Coffee That Does Not Destroy the Environment

16 February 2016

By Marra Hensby, Finder Blogger: The Eco Expert, founder of My Pure Earth

Love coffee? Do you know what goes into making your favourite cuppa? Here’s how you can make a conscious decision for your daily morning brew. 


Coffee is as essential to my morning routine as oxygen and for many of us it’s the most important meal of the day. I always thought that by drinking my coffee black I was having a “healthier” version, but little did I know that there is a lot more lurking in my morning brew than just beans.

Everyday, around the world 2.25 billion cups of coffee are drunk, but few of us know that coffee is one of the most chemically treated food crops in the world. It is heavily sprayed with pesticides and grown with chemical fertilisers, herbicides, and fungicides. All of these chemicals are known to cause health problems, including cancer, damage to our nervous systems and have been linked to reproductive disorders. In fact, much of the coffee that we drink is imported from areas of the world that use chemicals that are banned in most western countries.

Coffee is an $80 billion global industry. It’s the second most traded commodity in the world after oil. It’s hard to travel a few miles anywhere in the world without finding coffee being sold somewhere, either in a Starbucks or a tiny coffee stall by the side of the road. It’s this high demand that is changing the way coffee is grown today.

Traditionally, coffee is grown in the shade of tropical forest canopies. These “shade-grown” coffee plantations provide habitat for over 150 species of migratory birds and other wildlife. In order to increase the production of coffee to meet the growing demand, there has been a shift by the major coffee companies to clear the forests and grow coffee in the full sun. Four in ten coffee fields in Mexico, Columbia, Central America and the Caribbean have been converted from shaded plantations to sun-grown plantations. This has a massive impact on the environment and wildlife surrounding these plantations.

Studies in Columbia and Mexico found 90 percent fewer bird species in sun-grown coffee regions than in shade-grown ones. When the habitats of birds are removed, there are more pests, which then increases the need for pesticides.

So what can we all do as consumers? Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest that you have give up coffee to be a conscious consumer. Look for “shade-grown” on your coffee label. This type of coffee farming uses significantly fewer chemicals because the birds offer natural pest control. Plus, these trees provide natural mulch, which reduces the need for chemical fertilisers. You can also choose organic coffee beans which are grown without pesticides and fertilisers. 

If you want to take your conscious coffee drinking to the next level, be on the lookout for carbon-neutral coffee. Why? Because global climate change presents a very large problem for coffee growers; coffee is a fragile plant requiring a specific climate in which to thrive. Even a slight change in temperature or rainfall can decrease coffee yields; quality or even threaten an entire country’s crop.

Buying organic, shade grown or even carbon-neutral coffee costs a little more. But, in the end, nothing feels better than waking up and knowing that your daily cup (or cups) of coffee fights climate change, protects habitat for birds and wasn’t produced using harmful chemicals. 



About Marra Hensby

Marra Hensby, Finder Bloggers: The Eco Expert, founders of My Pure Earth

With a background in corporate sustainability, Marra also has a master’s degree in Environmental Management from the National University of Singapore. She startedMy Pure Earth in 2015, and hosts workshops to teach people (and, yes, their helpers) how to make chemical-free cleaning and beauty products as well as pure pest-control solutions. She’ll blog about these topics and more.


More from Marra Hensby

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