How can coffee contribute to the circular economy?

With recent reports of coffee being a major contributor to deforestation & the commodity itself at risk, PerfectDailyGrind asks Mark Zhou what can be done

Recently, Procurement Magazine reported that the European Council and Parliament have reached a provisional directive agreement that puts obligations on firms in the use of six particular commodities that relate to deforestation – wood, cattle, soy, palm oil, cocoa and coffee.

Coffee one of "The Big Six' in impacting deforestation

On this last - and globally consumed product - included in the 'big six' commodities which represent the largest share of EU-driven deforestation - it represents 7.1% of all commodities which drive deforestation. 

With this recognition, coffee has become central to the ESG conversation and is now recognised as being a prime-mover in the equation.

The Perfect Daily Grind

A recently Perfect Daily Grind article now asks how specialty coffee can push for a circular economy model.

It says that coffee professionals and consumers alike are increasingly focusing on ways to improve their social and environmental impact, and that this ranges from using more sustainable processing methods on farms to using recyclable and compostable packaging.

"A large part of this revolves around the concept of a circular economy. Essentially, this model encourages the continued use of resources for as long as possible, with the goal of reducing waste production.

"When carried out effectively, a circular economy minimises environmental impact. With concerns about the future of the coffee industry growing, implementing more sustainable business practices has never been so important."

Coffee and the circular economy

Speaking to Mark Zhou, founder of sustainable packaging company MTPak Coffee, Perfect Daily Grind looks at how coffee businesses themselves can  contribute to a circular economy. 

Recognising that some coffee shops and roasters have already been operating in a circular economy for decades, it gives the sample of the reuse and recycling of coffee grounds into biofuel, compost, or fertiliser as a popular way of minimising waste production.

In the article, Zhou explains that "a circular economy in coffee often begins at farm level," and that "recently, producers have started looking for more ways to reuse and reduce the byproducts of growing coffee. This can include wastewater (used for processing) and coffee husk."

We see that ESG and sustainability initiatives are beginning to have an impact on almost every industry across the planet.

The article states: "In some cases, these byproducts act as compost or fertilisers, while other producers create products, such as cascara tea or coffee leaf tea, to diversify their income.

“Environmental sustainability is important to consumers across the board, not just in coffee,” Mark explains. “However, as one of the commodities which is most at risk of extinction due to climate change, coffee tends to receive more attention than others.”

Coffee as cause and effect of environmental impact

Superimposed against Procurement Magazine's earlier report, we see that when it comes to coffee, we are in a precarious kind of sustainability-catch-22, where commodities are able to both have potentially disastrous impacts not he environment, and be at risk themselves. 

The Perfect Daily Grind states that "according to the International Coffee Organisation, the world consumed more than 170 million 60kg bags of coffee in 2022. Arabica makes up the majority of the market share, and while it is higher in quality, this coffee species isn’t particularly resilient to the effects of climate change.

"This is especially concerning," it says, "given recent research into how climate change will impact coffee production. The 2022 Expected global suitability of coffee, cashew and avocado due to climate change study found that by 2050, the top five coffee-producing countries in the world will experience a decrease in both the size and suitability of their arabica-growing land."

MTPak's Circular Economy Grant

MTPak Coffee, in-line with the work already being done to redress these impacts, launches its Circular Economy Grant to help drive the sustainable change that's needed in the sector.

Speaking to Perfect Daily Grind, Zhou says: “The purpose of the MTPak Coffee Circular Economy Grant is to bring attention to our mission and encourage others to join our journey to creating a more sustainable coffee supply chain.

"The scheme recognises and rewards small, independent roasters and coffee shops who are using their business to drive sustainability in the specialty coffee sector.

“In other words, it’s for companies who reject a ‘take-make-waste’ approach and strive to keep products and materials in use or as long as possible to obtain their maximum value.”

The last word

In the push for sustainability, everything from coffee to palm oil, to soy, wood, cocoa and beef falls under the green radar, and this list is by no means exhaustive. 

Every commodity that human beings use in one way or another will be subsumed into sustainability's ambit, and the question that remains is: What is your business doing to make a positive contribution to sustainability efforts?


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