Environmental impact of evolving coffee technologies
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Coffee is a ubiquitous beverage in the USA today, accounting for 19% of the world’s coffee consumption. Although coffee consumption in itself is not new, the technology for brewing coffee and its corresponding environmental impact has been evolving rapidly in recent years, particularly with the widespread adoption of the single-serve coffee pod. This work utilizes a midpoint life cycle assessment with multiple environmental impact categories, to assess the environmental impact of a conventional (drip filter) brewing system, compared to a novel (single-serve coffee pod) brewing system, from cradle to grave.
This work analyzes the impact of consumer habits (such as leaving the novel system in standby mode) and phantom electricity consumption on the environmental impact of the system, in addition to the brewing systems themselves. The TRACI (Tool for Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and Other Environmental Impacts) suite is utilized to define the impact categories for the analysis, providing a holistic view. The SimaPro software tool is utilized along with multiple databases to enable the analysis.
Results and discussion
The question as to which coffee brewing system has the lowest environmental impact is a function of the phase, boundaries, and impact categories considered. The conventional brewing system has a lower environmental impact, with respect to raw materials and manufacturing. However, when only brewing is considered, the novel system has a lower environmental impact, suggesting that tradeoffs may occur. When the overall brewing system is considered throughout its lifetime, the system with the greatest environmental impact is not only a function of the technology, but also human behavior. The conventional system has a greater environmental impact than the novel system across some of the impact categories when phantom electricity usage is considered. However, when standby electricity consumption is considered, the novel system has the greater environmental impact due to the increased electricity consumption. Meaning that it is not only the technological aspects of the system that influence its environmental impact, but also how the technology is used.
A major conclusion of this work is that although the technology utilized to brew the coffee is relevant to the environmental impact, the human usage of the technology is also equally relevant, although it is not often the focus of literature in this area. In order to truly understand and quantify the environmental impact of brewing coffee across multiple technologies, more information about coffee consumption habits is needed.
KeywordsCoffee Environmental impact Human use Life cycle assessment New technology
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
The study was funded by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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