5 Ways to Ensure You’re Buying Eco-Friendly Coffee
Environmentalism is having a serious moment right now, and it’s about damn time. Straws are the current vice on the chopping block, with Starbucks announcing that they plan to stop using disposable plastic straws by 2020, switching to recyclable plastic lids. But straws aren’t the biggest issue you should consider when reaching for your summery iced coffee. Coffee itself can be a source of environmental devastation, with 2.5 million acres of Central American rainforest having been cleared to cultivate the crop. There are also other problems to consider, like human and labor rights issues for workers in developing countries and the production of takeaway cups that end up in landfills. If you love your brew, here are some guidelines for making sure it’s eco-friendly and responsibly sourced.
1. Check for Rainforest Alliance certification. The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that helps promote healthy work environments and environmental policies in countries whose economies depend on coffee production. According to the NGO’s website, for many years people cultivated coffee in harmony with the Amazon and other rainforests, but when agriculture scaled up around the globe, corporations turned to a system of farming whereby large swaths of forests were decimated in order to create room for coffee fields. And that’s not the only problem. Workers in these regions are often paid unfair wages and lack the platforms to advocate for themselves with large multi-national companies. The Rainforest Alliance seeks to remedy these problems by training farmers in methods that preserve the rainforest while also increasing their yields. They also help the farmers ensure that their practices are not polluting waterways or posing a threat to native species. Look for the term “Rainforest Alliance Certified” on your bag of coffee to ensure that your cup of joe meets stringent requirements for environmental preservation.
2. Don’t use disposable coffee containers or pods. It goes without saying that anyone concerned about their environmental impact should steer clear of disposable products, which clog up landfills and waterways. The environmental problems inherent with Keurig cups, for example, are well-known. But even your takeaway Starbucks mug, recyclable though it may be, isn’t as good of a choice as a reusable thermos: According to the BBC, 99.75 percent of takeaway coffee cups are not recycled.
3. Look for the words “Fair Trade Certified.” Much like the Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade USA helps ensure that your cup of coffee is responsibly sourced. Though the organization does have an environmental component, its focus is on ensuring that people in developing countries are paid a fair wage for the products they cultivate. By helping to achieve income stability in developing regions, the organization encourages farmers to avoid environmentally destructive farming practices. Fairtrade America, part of Fairtrade International, is the other major US non-profit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable practices and improving working conditions and wages for farmers. Java that has both Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade certification is your best bet for ethical coffee.
4. Buy coffee from local roasters. Support your local community by shopping small and purchasing coffee from a local roaster in your area. This has the advantage of letting you meet your roaster, so you can ask questions about where the coffee comes from and whether or not it’s Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade certified.
5. Buy organic when possible. Buying organic coffee can be a good move for the environment, as coffee is one of the most highly pesticide-sprayed crops on the planet. However, Coffee Kind also notes that the process of being certified organic is extremely cumbersome and difficult, so many small-batch farmers who technically grow their coffee organically never go through the process of becoming certified. This is yet another reason to get your coffee from a local roaster who can tell you all about the quality of the coffee you are purchasing.
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(Photo via Getty)