Just One Thing Challenge #6

As I write this post and sipping on my Organic Nueva Esperanza Coffee, I am happy. Part of it stems 3 cups of coffee previous to this one now flowing through my system. Mostly, it stems from knowing that my choice to drink this cup of coffee makes a difference in conserving the oceans. I firmly believe in the power of an individual to make impacts, both small and great, through daily choices. I also believe in the power of consumer choices as indicated by my previous challenges.

The Request: This week I ask you to think about your choices surrounding your coffee (or tea) consumption and how they may affect marine systems. What type of coffee (or tea) do you drink? Organic? Shade-grown? Folgers (which is wrong on so many levels)? What do you drink your coffee from?

To help you get on the right track. This week Strictly Organic Coffee is making the deal a little sweeter! For every purchase you make they will kick in some free organic Hazelnuts (type Deep-Sea News Just One Thing Challenge into the Special Order Instructions box). The coffee and nuts are fabulous. The coffee is shade-grown, organic, coffee pulp left over from processing (below) is composted, and additionally the coffee is fair trade. You really couldn't feel any better about drinking a cup of coffee. Unless of course you drink it out of a mug (Eliminates the use of wasteful disposable paper cups)t hat supports the Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, or made under fair labor practices. If you drink tea try Choice Organic Teas (sorry no special offer)

Ongoing challenges can be seen here
People accepting the Just One Thing Challenge: 1. Craig McClain 2. Kevin Zelnio 3. Peter Etnoyer 4. Sheril K. 5. Mike G 6. Farne 7. Jim Lemire 8. Kiki 9. Fish Guy Dave 10. CK 11. Karen James 12. Merisea 13. Keely 14. tonyj 15. Traci 16. Mrs. Hillary Victoria Minor 17. Peter Mc 18. Tony D 19. Mary Aloyse Firestone 20. Miriam Goldstein 21.John 22. Judith in Ottawa 23. tjewell 24. Slim 25. Ashley 26. Silver 27. Steve W. 28. John Hill 29. Rachel 30. tjewell 31. Eric 32. jebyrnes 33. Lynna Landstreet 34. Ole 35. Carrie 36. Max 37. Marsh. 38. Summer 39. You?
The reason:

1. Organic pollutants from coffee processing: Whether shade-grown, organic, or conventional, discharge from coffee processing plants represents a major source of river pollution. When coffee beans are separated from the cherry, waste material (pulp, residual water, parchment) is generated that often is disposed of in local waterways.

For example, the Guatemala-based Instituto Centroamericano de Investigación y TecnologÃa Industrial estimated that over a six month period during 1988, the processing of 547,000 tons of coffee in Central America generated 1.1 million tons of pulp and polluted 110,000 cubic meters of water per day, resulting in discharges to the region's waterways equivalent to raw sewage dumping from a city of four million people.[54]

This discharge of organic pollutants leads to anoxic waterways that suffocate wildlife. In some regions this waste travels down rivers polluting coastal marine systems.
2. Pesticide runoff: Sun-grown coffee (as opposed to shade-grown) requires significantly greater amount of pesticides that pollute waterways. As all things run to the sea, coastal areas subject to freshwater discharge from river and streams can become degraded. I have seen the impacts of pesticides and organic pollutants first hand in Costa Rica. You may question the extent that this will affect a deep-sea habitat so far removed for our actions. Pesticides do make them into deep-sea sediments. Traces of DDT are still found in sediments in the deep sea off the Monterey Coast. Schlunz and Schneider's (2000) beautifully illustrates the extent major river systems can transport material to the oceans and on into the deep. Below are estimates of just organic carbon flux (as opposed to total material). The numbers are fluxes in 10^12 g or 1,000,000 tons per year. Some of the major riverine inputs occur in coffee producing areas.


3. Deforestation:
Deforestation trends are serious throughout the coffee-producing lands of Latin America. Seven of the ten countries in the world with the highest deforestation rates are in Latin America and the Caribbean; these seven countries include Jamaica, Haiti, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico.

Less forests means more CO2 in the atmosphere leading to more acidic oceans.

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Not all types of coffee processing use a lot of water. Most Central American coffee is "wet" processed or "washed" in which the coffee cherries, sans skin, are soaked and repeatedly rinsed to get off the sticky pulp. If this water isn't treated, as you noted, it can create anaerobic conditions when released into streams. "Dry" processed or "natural" coffees, common in Africa and parts of Brazil, dry the cherries before stripping the pulp which requires much less (if any) water.

I think things have come a long way in the last 10 years or so since the NDRC summary regarding water conservation and treatment at coffee beneficios and even small mills, which at a minimum used settling tanks and small filtration systems.

My area of expertise is habitat destruction associated with coffee production, and the situation is extremely disturbing. The #1 most important thing anybody can do to in this regard is to STOP buying cheap coffee produced by the big multi-national companies, including grocery store brands, convenience store chains, etc. There's much more at my site.

Thanks for posting about this from a different perspective.

Julie, thanks for your comment, we appreciate your perspective. We would love to know if you know of or have any references pertaining to destruction of coastal/marine habitat.

There is little if any direct destruction of coastal habitat for coffee growing, since it is a higher-altitude crop. Coffea arabica grows best at 900 m ASL and higher, while Coffea canephora (commonly known as robusta and the type used in instant and other cheap coffees) grows lower, between 200 to 800 m. Coastal ecosystems would be more likely to face indirect harm from secondary impacts such as siltration from erosion, chemical runoff and deposition, etc. I sent a citation to Craig directly on a paper regarding Puerto Rican coffee, deforestation, and coral reefs there. I have not read it recently, and you all can provide more commentary on its relevance than I can. I look forward to what you might think!

I have to point out here that when in Costa Rica I witnessed runoff from coffee plantations along with banana chocking coral reefs. This was 2000. Even though coffee requires higher latitudes, in many countries these areas can occur quite close to the coast. Although indirect, there is no reason to underestimate these impacts.

I've felt guilty for years about my lovely tasty Sumatran coffee (at least it is locally roasted & blended)...but it's so good...*sigh* Thanks for the kick in the pants - hopefully that shade-grown Mexican will give some of the same kick.

Two local grocery stores in the city I currently live in went "bag free".

one, entirely, bag free. You gotta bring your own. No ifs ands or buts.

the other instituted a 5c charge per bag, and saw the number of plastic bags used go from 26000 a week to 6000. They're aiming for 1000.

That is fantastic news and I wish more businesses would follow along. I am getting much better about not using plastic bags and seem to finally be in the habit of taking my reusables where ever I go.

Just tried Strictly Organic's Italian Roast tonight. The smell in itself was worth the purchase. The beans are so beautifully oily that it is almost a shame to grind them up.

Hi! For your UK readers, I can heartily recommend the following source of fresh coffee : www.hasbean.co.uk They buy from small growers and the coffee they sell - roasted to order - is fabulous. UK bloggers, please look at the site.

The supermarket bag debate is heating up nicely here in England. Actually, it has been boiling for some time but now one major supermarket is bringing in a five pence charge for plastic bags.

By Mrs Hilary Vic… (not verified) on 04 Mar 2008 #permalink