One of the biggest problems with coffee production is that it generates an incredible amount of waste. Once the coffee beans are separated from the cherries, approximately 45% of the total biomass is discarded.
So for every pound of roasted coffee we enjoy, an equivalent amount of coffee pulp is thrown into huge landfills around the world. This means that around 10 million tonnes of coffee pulp are released into the environment every year.
When disposed of improperly, waste can cause serious damage to soils and water sources.
However, a new study published in the British Ecological Society’s journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence has found that coffee pulp isn’t just a nuisance to throw away. This can have an incredibly positive impact on the regrowth of deforested areas on the planet.
via British Ecological Society
In 2018, researchers from ETH-Zurich and the University of Hawaii spread 30 dump trucks of coffee pulp over an area of approximately 100 x 130 feet of degraded land in Costa Rica. The experiment took place on a former coffee farm that underwent rapid deforestation in the 1950s.
The coffee pulp was spread three feet thick over the entire area.
Another plot of land near the coffee pulp dump was left alone to serve as a control for the experiment.
“The results were spectacular.” Dr Rebecca Cole, lead author of the study, said. “The area treated with a thick layer of coffee pulp transformed into a small forest in just two years, while the control plot remained dominated by non-native grasses.”
In just two years, the area treated with coffee pulp had 80% forest cover, compared to only 20% of the control area. Thus, the area treated with coffee pulp increased four times faster. Like a burst of caffeine, it invigorated the biological activity of the area.
The canopy was also four times higher than that of the witness.
The coffee-treated area also removed an invasive grass species that was taking over the land and preventing forest succession. Its removal allowed other native species to take over and recolonize the area.
“This case study suggests that agricultural by-products can be used to accelerate forest recovery on degraded tropical lands. In situations where the processing of these by-products comes at a cost to agricultural industries, their use at restoration purposes to meet global reforestation targets can be a “win-win” scenario, Dr Cole said.
If the results are repeatable, it’s a win-win for coffee drinkers and the environment.
Researchers believe coffee treatments may provide a cost-effective way to reforest degraded land. They could also help reverse the effects of climate change by supporting the growth of forests across the world.
The 2016 Paris Agreement made reforestation an important part of the fight against climate change. The agreement encourages developing countries to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, promote conservation and sustainable management of forests, and increase forest carbon stocks in developing countries.
“We hope our study will provide a starting point for other researchers and industries to examine how they could make their production more efficient by creating connections with the global restoration movement,” Dr Cole said.
This article was originally published on 03/29/21
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