Capsule, filter or instant: the most harmful coffee for the climate is not the coffee you think

Pods that are good for the climate: wouldn’t it be a little… strong in coffee? Although two billion cups are reportedly consumed worldwide every day, capsules will represent a market of more than $12 billion globally in 2022, a 24% increase over the previous year.

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A team of researchers from the University of Quebec in Chicoutimi (Canada) conducted a review of the scientific literature devoted to the carbon footprint of coffee, that is, the greenhouse gas emissions (expressed in CO2 equivalents) associated with 280 mL of the drink, that is, its capacity. of the standard cup depending on the different preparation methods.

For this, scientists considered the entire “life cycle” of coffee trees, from planting to disposal of waste (coffee grounds, pods, filter paper) through transportation, roasting and grinding of beans, as well as packaging. , as well as household appliances – operation and production of coffee machines, kettles and dishwashers.

Fertilizers, irrigation and pesticides: agriculture weighs heavily on coffee’s carbon footprint

The authors present the results of their work in a published article Conversation – and especially relayed by BBC News (19.01.2023). If the largest part of the carbon footprint of a cup of coffee – 40-80% of emissions – is represented by the production of coffee beans, in other words, agriculture that uses more or less fertilizers, irrigation and pesticides, the way it is made. is still a source of marked differences.

Thus, according to the Canadian team, traditional filter coffee has the largest carbon footprint, as it not only requires a higher amount of ground coffee (25 g) to obtain the same volume of drink, but also corresponds to a higher energy consumption. heating water. Next comes the hot-brew French press or press coffee maker, which uses more ground coffee (17g) for the same standard cup.

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According to this analysis, a single-use pod or capsule – plastic or aluminum – is therefore not the most climate-damaging preparation method. Because it saves 11-13g of ground coffee per cup compared to filtered coffee. “However, the production of 11 g of Arabica coffee in Brazil averages about 59 g eq. CO₂ (CO2 equivalent). This value is much higher than 27 g eq. CO2 emitted during the production and burial of the plastic capsule“, – say the authors.

Finally, the most virtuous of the methods considered by the researchers is none other than instant coffee or instant coffee, because a small amount of ground coffee is required (12 g), compared to the lower energy consumption of a kettle to heat water. a coffee machine and no waste. “Paradoxically, this type of coffee does not follow the current trend in North America“says Luciano Rodrigues Viana, co-author of the study – without pointing out the bad image that instant coffee suffers in the eyes of lovers.

However, it should be noted that these results depend on the energy sources – renewable or fossil – supplying the grid in the region under consideration. Thus, “Thanks to hydroelectric power in Quebec, washing your glass in the dishwasher has a negligible impact (0.7 grams CO2 equivalent per cup)“time”The electricity used to make a cup of coffee in Alberta, where electricity generation is based on coal and natural gas (…) 29 grams eq. CO2“, count the authors.

Moreover, the study does not take into account other brewing methods, especially cold brew, halim (the “Turkish coffee” principle), Italian coffee makers – Neapolitan or moka – or even vacuum or “siphon” coffee brewers. In addition to the reusable capsules mentioned by the authors, new disposable containers that are not aluminum or plastic have appeared on supermarket shelves. They can be composted to produce a fully biodegradable, natural fertilizer for agriculture.

The importance of moderating our coffee consumption

Although the Canadian scientists calculate the carbon footprint of a cup – a method that is certainly important for comparing different preparation methods, they nevertheless emphasize that the ease and speed of using coffee machines (pods) can influence the consumer. to be more prepared – and therefore logically increase the associated greenhouse gas emissions.

So, according to them, regulating our coffee consumption will remain the best way to limit our impact on the environment – especially as the resource can be depleted. “Indeed, climate change could reduce the global area suitable for coffee production by about 50% by 2050, in a context where demand will triple.they warn.

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Even if coffee consumers have a role to play in reducing their carbon footprint, governments and multinational companies in major coffee-producing countries must create the economic and technical conditions necessary to create coffee production that is less dependent on irrigation systems. fertilizers and pesticides while preventing deforestation“, they conclude.

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