Coffee's Water Problem

The next time you hold a cup of coffee in your hand, consider that for every cup of coffee, 1100 times that amount of water was used to produce it. This estimate, from the Water Footprint Network, highlights the need for all of those involved in the production and delivery of coffee to consumers to adopt procedures that will help eliminate this water waste. Leon Kaye reported this weekend that pilot projects provide a template for more sustainable future coffee production. The Rainforest Alliance with Fair Trade USA has succeeded in saving water by rewarding farmers for planting more trees. Such reforestation preserves the watershed which provides drinking water while also preventing erosion. Something as simple as a new pulping machine helped Ethiopian farmers improve the water use to coffee ratio from sixty to one to three to one, and provided compost for the farmers at the same time. In addition, since the pulp is now being turned into compost, it’s no longer entering the river as a toxin. Even the coffee shop has a role to play. Starbucks demonstrated a huge water savings by stopping a water streaming process used in their dishwashing method. Since that procedure used 100 gallons a day per store, this is an immense saving of water. Increased world demand for coffee is only going to put more pressure behind these kinds of adaptations so more water will be saved. The potential of droughts this year in coffee-producing countries will be a greater pressure. Sustainable practices not only save water, but they build up soil and help to alleviate the need for chemical fertilizers and pest control. These advantages save money for the farmer and further increase his profits, enabling him to put more improvements into his coffee production. Hopefully the water saved by increasing sustainability of coffee production will bring your cup of coffee’s water ratio down to its most reasonable level.

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