The only thing I like about my morning, is my coffee. From the long, brisk walk from my apartment to campus, to the lull of the morning gen-eds which are better for doodling than for learning, coffee is the only thing which gets me through. I am also not the only person who feels this way. According to the National Coffee Association, 87 percent of Americans were coffee drinkers in 2013, and it is likely this statistic has gone up in the years since.
The demand for coffee is at an all-time high, with America being the number one consumer of coffee. The issue with this demand, is that it creates a need for a high supply. This means that the companies who are producing these beans are often using labor which is identified as being akin to that of slavery, and the industry as a whole is creating serious degradation to the environment.
Currently, Brazil is the leading country in coffee bean exports. Coffee is responsible for over 10 percent of the nations GDP. The nation has also long had strong ties between slave labor and the harvesting of coffee beans. According to the Brazilian Ministry of Labor and Employment, the industry has many farms which they identified as being “analogous to slavery.” This includes extensive workdays, physical abuse and even armed guards preventing workers from leaving.
Many of these people on the plantations of Brazil are kept working for the farms, as they incur debts by working for the farm. They will owe debts to the companies which are working them through unfair charges, such as the bus ride to get to the plantation. Rather than making money, they quickly rack up debts to their employers. It’s essentially a form of never ending indentured servitude.
Another big issue with the coffee industry is the environmental degradation created by it. Often the beans are saturated with pesticides to avoid losing any crop to the native insects. Deforestation is essential to leveling the field, and the water in the surrounding areas often becomes polluted by the chemicals used on the plantations. Though coffee can be “certified organic,” it is much slower to grow beans this way, meaning corporations will typically spring for heavy pesticides and unsustainable practices.
There is also the creation of waste from coffee, especially because of the Keurig cup, or “K-cup.” The one-use disposable cup has found its way onto nearly every landfill on the planet. The cup itself is made up of several layers of plastic, metal and paper. This means they are not recyclable, and instead will take thousands of years to break down. With one in three Americans using K-cups, this is becoming a bigger problem with every Keurig sale. There are billions of these pods entering landfills, and it is not slowing down any time soon.
The waste created by the K-cup has inspired a campaign, #killthekcup. Even one of the creators of Keurig, John Sylvan supports the campaign. In an interview with The Atlantic, Sylvan even admitted to “feel(ing) bad that I ever did it.” This was in reference to the enormous amount of environmental degradation created by his invention.
This seems incredibly wasteful, especially considering drip coffee is so easy to make. We also have massive fair trade companies which exist and operate within North Carolina. For example, Larry’s Coffee and Counter Culture Coffee can both be purchased in Greensboro, and are locally operated companies within the state. Or, you can even purchase fair trade coffee from Starbucks, as they have partnered with Conservation International to produce 100 percent ethically sourced beans since 2015.
Drinking coffee sustainably can be difficult. Whether it’s because of a caffeine addiction, or just an enjoyment of the beverage, people often aren’t concerned with the ethical and environmental impacts of drinking and supplying coffee. Yet, with the movement against unsustainable coffee growing every year, it’s easier than ever to make more conscious decisions. It’s time to end the human rights violations of coffee production, and to #killthekcup for good.