Carbon footprint of your cup of coffee- decarbonising coffee | IncaFé Organic Coffee


Carbon footprint of your cup of coffee- decarbonising coffee

Posted by Joseph Verbeek on
Carbon footprint of your cup of coffee- decarbonising coffee

The carbon problem

Lets face it, in general coffee is not great for the planet. There is a lot of volume grown and a lot of freight miles involved to make just an extraction with apparently significant health benefits but otherwise little nutrition. Add to this all the takeaway cups, packaging and use of non-organic dairy and altered alternative milks, inefficient power-hungry home machines and we have created a large industry contributing to Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. Coffee growing has led to a lot of deforestation of tropical and subtropical forests. Luckily the EU adopted a new law that stops imports, like coffee, that contribute to deforestation. Coffee growing countries like Peru seem to take note.

The prize

We love coffee, it is in our DNA, it helps us to get through the day and stay focused. It stops some of us from grazing. It is not going to disappear from our daily routine quickly. Because of its impact on our environment we wanted to present an alternative that is as good, if not better, in taste with less of an impact.

Where do we start?

First of all, the biggest differentiator of all: buy organic coffee!!! See our blog on why organic?

Capturing carbon with organic coffee is just one of the benefits. Eliminating the  use of nitrogen in coffee is another. Capturing carbon on the farm and eliminating nitrogen on the farm gives organic coffee a benefit of some 4TCO2e per ha per year over monoculture coffee. That is very significant. Even better is stopping the loss of carbon from the soil. 

Buy from Carbonzero companies like us. It is not perfect but we go beyond our Carbonzero boundaries and we try to make our whole supply chain, from farm to cup, carbon-positive. We include all emissions from the export port in the coffee growing country till we bring it to supermarket or at your doorstep. We also include all our other overheads like visiting the farmers, visiting clients and servicing coffee machines. Overall our Toitu verified emissions are below 0.7kgCO2e per kg of coffee sold. That is pretty good. 

The one major input that is not included in our calculation is packaging. We purchase it already prepared and we are not the final emitter, hence it gets excluded from our Carbonzero calculation. 

What you can do?

First of all a good coffee can be drunk without sugar and/or milk. It should not be bitter and the flavour nuances should make you want it to drink without milk or sugar. A nice black coffee like a Geisha pour-over will give you energy and suppresses peckish feelings. Its beautiful aftertaste lingers for hours and you don't want to spoil it with food or milk. You pay a bit more for specialty coffee but you get a lot for it and buying specialty coffees help our organic growers a lot.

Get rid of your coffee grinds in the garden or plants, that is a big help. If all the grinds end up in the waste tip they will be reduced to mostly methane as it decomposes anaerobically. Decomposition of 200g of dry coffee will create a lot more methane and in a much shorter period than eg the coffee packaging.

Making coffee at home and switching on a boiler coffee machine for hours for making just a few cups requires a lot of energy. That might be ok if it is green power but you'll be surprised of the carbon footprint per cup of coffee from your home machine if that is not the case. Possibly the biggest emitter in the supply chain. If you want to buy a good coffee machine for home try out an Ascaso as they work with much less power hungry thermoblocks. Easiest is to have the right amount of water and do a pour-over and treat yourself to an espresso shot in your favourite cafe.

Get rid of TA cups and use your 4evercup

Coffee's carbon emissions life cycle analysis 

Now lets put some rough numbers on carbon emissions of the coffee life cycle, from grower to cup of coffee and beyond.

We use a number of papers and data. From this study of farm emissions in Sumatra we get for the processing of green coffee: 0.34 T CO2e/T green coffee..

This corroborates with data from a study that does not take into account the decomposing of coffee material on the farm, consumption and post consumption.

Based on various trucking calculators we assume that a truck doing an average 600km with a 20T load will emit 0.07 T CO2e/T of green coffee, taking the coffee to port of export in the growing country. There is some double dipping as some of this transport is already included in the earlier emissions, but distances in Peru are long.

So the emissions in country of origin are some 0.41 T CO2e/T of green coffee.

1kg of green coffee gives some 0.82 kg roasted coffee due to moisture loss and other losses . So 0.41/0.82 gives 0.5 T CO2e per Ton of roasted coffee.

Once at the port all emissions are under our control and certified by Toitu. We have an efficient process and emit less than 0.7 T CO2e /T of roasted coffee. 

What is not included in the Toitu calculation are the emissions associated with the carton boxes and packaging material since these are manufactured by third parties and we don't dispose of them (our waste is part of the calculation).

Life cycle emissions of cartons i about 0.094 kg CO2e per kg of coffee (this includes recycling), based on 100g carton per 1kg coffee.

Manufacturing emission of virgin LDPE packaging is 0.18 kg kg CO2e per kg of coffee (based on 5x 200g bags of 12g LDPE, ignoring more efficient 1kg packaging, and not including recycling and no decomposition emissions as this takes a very long time).

So adding all emissions up at this point.

At source: 0.50kg CO2e/kg of roasted coffee (farm to port of origin)

IncaFe company emissions 0.70 kg CO2e/kg of roasted coffee (from port of origin to factory for processing and then to clients).

Packaging combined:0.27 kg CO2e/kg of roasted coffee

So adding and rounding up: carbon emissions from farm to supermarket shelf or home is 1.5 kg CO2 per kg of roasted organic coffee. 

There is some upward rounding in these numbers and they are quite conservative as it includes various indirect emissions like importing and servicing coffee machines.

When you use a boiler machine at home we estimate the footprint to be between 1-2kg COe/kg coffee, that is in NZ with a very high percentage of green power. For 2 cups a day it will go quickly to the 2kg CO2e/kg.

For pour over that is around 0.3 kg CO2e/kg coffee provided you heat up just the required amount of water.

If you send your spend coffee grinds to landfill that will add another estimated 1 kg CO2e/kg of coffee (coffee in the bag has a moisture content of less than 3%, and this estimate is based on a very dry weight material).

So at this point we are looking at a footprint for organic coffee of some 2.5 kg CO2e/kg coffee and some 3.5kg for equivalently processed non organic due to use of fertilisers and pesticides (excluding other negative impacts). 

How much carbon is offset on an organic plantation?

Looking at some of the research on carbon sequestration on coffee plantations they seem to underestimate the carbon sequestration in the soil and the massive loss of carbon from the soil in mono culture plantations. The loss of carbon in industrial agriculture is a big topic in the documentary "kiss the ground". Most carbon is stored in the soil in healthy eco-systems.

 Agroforestry has the potential to sequester up to 7T of CO2e per ha. One of the more detailed studies that ignores the sequestration in the soil estimates the sequestration on a coffee plantation at 3.6 T/ha/a whilst acknowledging in Peru this would be higher even without the soil component. 

Based on these studies we estimate that sequestration of 3 T CO2/ha/a is conservative. 1ha of coffee in Peru produces some 800kg of green coffee per year which equates to 656kg of roasted coffee (82% efficiency). 

So for 1 Ton of roasted coffee some 1.5ha of organic coffee plantation is required. These 1.5ha sequesters at least some 4.5T CO2 i.e per 1 T of roasted coffee, 4.5 T of CO2e is sequestered. How cool is that!!! That is more than we emit in the enter life cycle of organic coffee. It is certainly a lot more than the estimated in country of origin emissions and emissions from our packaging that are not inlcuded in our Carbonzero certification. 

None of this sequestration would happen in large scale mono plantations.

We offset our company emissions with carbon credits through Toitu and we sponsor additional tree planting through Trees for Survival and Trees that count. 

We are sure our coffee is carbon positive. 

You as end user might have your own offsetting happening. 

Since all growing systems are different, it is hard to generalise but in the research papers there seems a reasonable amount of conservatism and we found some papers that are quite relevant. Since all plantations are different, it is very difficult to easily and cheaply audit little farms to assign carbon credits, which is a real shame as this would be a way to give coffee growers some additional reward. Rabobank is doing a relative simple system to measure carbon inventory with satellite imaging but with more than 60% of the carbon locked in healthy soils, they are missing out on measuring a big chunk of the carbon inventory.



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