The environmental effects of coffee

Have you ever thought about the impact of your daily cup of coffee on our planet?

Farming, transportation, roasting, packaging and distribution. At every step of the coffee supply chain, waste is generated and pollution is emitted. It can be excessive water consumption during coffee growing and processing, increased carbon dioxide emissions during transportation or hazardous waste disposal during packaging production..

Is coffee environmentally friendly?

Coffee production has a huge impact on the environment, and not just in a positive sense.

Your cup of coffee is made from the seeds - or "beans" - of coffee cherries, which make up only a fraction of the total mass of 10 million tons of coffee produced annually.

Many coffee plantations rely on chemicals and pesticides, which is bad for the environment and the health of workers. In addition, the growing demand for coffee often leads to deforestation and loss of biodiversity. However, there are initiatives that focus on sustainable coffee production, such as using natural methods and preserving biological diversity.

Just how polluting is coffee?

Gunter Pauli, one of the leading sustainability researchers, estimated that global coffee production, from harvesting to brewing, generates about 23 million tons of waste per year. That means: most of the coffee product is waste!

How can you make coffee more environmentally friendly?

Reducing carbon footprint and waste production in the coffee supply chain is a duty we can no longer run away from. It may seem too big a task to tackle individually, but there are certainly important steps we can take now to make the shift together.

That is the Circular Economy.

The circular economy and coffee

The Circular Economy complicated concept is nothing but the introduction of a broader perspective in production, processing, consumption and discharge in the coffee sector, and it can help us reduce the environmental impact of coffee by creating new value from its by-products.

Understanding how to better utilize all by-products, or waste streams, in the coffee supply chain is complicated, but there are many things that can be done right now! Here is a list of four macro areas where improvements can easily be made.


Coffee is a plant, but for brewing coffee we use only the seeds of the cherry. Usually the cherry is discarded or sometimes used as a fertilizer in coffee growing. However, the potential of this cherry is considerably greater.

Once the beans are removed during processing, the coffee berry, known commercially as cascara, can be dried (like the leaves of tea) to be turned into a delicious tea-like infusion with many interesting properties.

Using coffee berries in this way is a perfect example of circular thinking, where coffee producers can extract value from what until a few years ago was considered a waste product.

Going to consume this product will spread the production of Cascara around the world, also reducing the waste produced while consuming a great new product. By the way, it also goes perfectly with your summer Gin-Tonic :)

Waste disposal

That sticky, black coffee sludge coming out of your espresso machine or filter coffee setup is definitely worth more than just the trash can.

For God's sake, don't throw it down the drain! Combine it with food waste and turn it into great compost for farms and gardens. In fact, its nutrient content can repair contaminated soil, keep rats and other pests away, suppress weeds and more. (Nerdy tip: coffee is acidic, which is why 1/4 ratio of coffee grounds/compost is recommended).

Gunter Pauli has been looking for alternatives to solve the waste problem for years. Over the past 20 years, he has traveled all over the world to find solutions to this problem and has launched several projects such as sustainable mining, bamboo houses and inevitable coffee.

His motto is "Drink it, Eat it, Wear it." He came up with several ideas to turn coffee grounds into soil to grow mushrooms or fabric for your sports jersey. These are not crazy ideas, but real projects that have already been implemented. Here, we leave some links to learn more about this cool topic:


Speaking of reducing the environmental impact of coffee, packaging is the "sexiest" topic. Of course, we know that there are biodegradable packaging, but they also have some drawbacks: they are often expensive, there are major problems with quality control and shelf life, and some are only biodegradable but not compostable (+ they can be very ugly).

So, what can we do if we want to make more sustainable packaging without making coffee crazy expensive or easily perishable?

At Wakuli, we propose two viable solutions:

  • The first is to use our cool coffee bags as flower pots to give them a second life through creativity. Don't forget to puncture the bag for drainage ;)
  • The second advice is to fill the bags with coffee grounds, get some spores and grow oyster mushrooms in them.


Don't worry, we're not going to repeat how important it is to buy responsibly and sustainably sourced coffee with transparent supply chains. Even though you should :)

Therefore, we would like to give you some simple tips and tricks to reduce the impact of your coffee consumption.

  • Buy your own reusable coffee mug (there are stylish ones these days) and take it with you everywhere to avoid plastic or paper take-away cups.
  • Avoid using plastic spoons to stir in your coffee
  • Find biodegradable filters
  • When choosing additional ingredients such as milk, also consider the environmental impact of these products.
  • If you drink coffee from pods or capsules, make sure you buy compostable capsules.

Many argue that the best way to ensure sustainability in the coffee supply chain is certification, and that is an excellent first step. In our previous article, however, we explained that this is not the holy grail, and that the hot topics of circularity and sustainability require much more than just certification.

But how cool, we can all start now and take action to make sure our daily cup of coffee stays there!

Want to know more about how you can help? Check out our freshly roasted coffee beans or sustainable coffee cups.

Become circular.

Milieueffecten van koffie - Een pakket van milieuvriendelijk koffie cups van Wakuli