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Does the Cream in Your Coffee Lead to Environmental Detriment?

Dale Wannen
Dale Wannen | Thursday July 1st, 2010 | 1 Comment

Every morning I pour myself a beautifully crafted, french-pressed cup of coffee.  After it neatly descends into my cup, I pour a fair amount of milk into it.  Apparently, hot beverages comprise quite a bit of our collective carbon footprints. It’s recently been noted that before you even head out into the car to commute to work, you’re increasing your carbon footprint considerably by adding cream to your coffee.

According to a recent article in The Guardian, the carbon footprint of the milk in a cup of coffee creates more CO2 than boiling the water and farming the beans combined.  In fact, if you drink three large lattes each day for a year, you’ve used as much energy as flying half way across the continent of Europe.  Now, sipping on three milk-infused lattes per day may be extreme, but the point is that a latte puts out about 16 times more grams of carbon than a simple black cup of coffee.  The reason behind all of this is the large amount of methane being released by the cows who produce the milk.

The culprits

Emissions of CO2 from cattle are immense.  With production of this industry expected to double in the next 30 years, livestock is considered an extreme threat and more devastating to the atmosphere than all autos and trucks combined.  Agriculture adds up to an estimated 14 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases with one and a half billion cows emitting numerous polluting gases, including lots of methane.

The drinkers

Of the one hundred million US daily coffee drinkers, thirty million drink specialty beverages such as lattes, cappuccinos, and mochas.  According to the most recent Coffee Statistics Business Report, U.S. coffee drinkers consume approximately 3.1 cups per day on average.  Fifty-two percent of Americans over the age of eighteen drink coffee every morning.  On top of all of this about 65% of coffee drinkers use some form of milk or cream in their cups.

The solution

Research is being done to eliminate these harmful gases and at the same time, turn methane into a profit center.  Marin County, CA’s Straus Family Creamery now uses a methane digester.  This machine captures naturally occurring gas from manure and converts it into electricity.  With this new system it is  generating up to 300,000 kilowatt-hours per year, equivalent to about $40,000 in savings a year.

Grass-fed cattle, as opposed to grain-fed, are helping reduce CO2 emissions, as well.  Despite all this methane, the Institute of Environmental Research and Education states that negative consequences of methane are offset by the fact that the pasture itself cuts down on greenhouse gas by sequestering the carbon in the grass itself.

[via PSFK]


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