Waste Not
Farmers in Central America Generating Energy From Coffee Wastewater

UTZ Certified’s Energy from Coffee Wastewater project has proven that it is possible to generate energy, tackle climate change and protect water resources by treating discharges from coffee mills. The project started in 2010 with the goal of addressing environmental and health problems caused by the wastewater produced in the coffee industry.

Tailor-made coffee wastewater treatment systems and solid-waste treatment mechanisms were installed at 19 coffee farms — eight in Nicaragua, 10 in Honduras and one in Guatemala. The positive impact of the project on over 5,000 people in the region has inspired UTZ Certified to replicate the initiative in other countries.

"Coffee production is only environmentally sustainable when water is used efficiently and polluted water from the wet-mill process is treated. Local ecosystems do not have the capacity to clean the large amounts of contaminated fluids," said Han De Groot, executive director at UTZ Certified. "Rural communities and coffee production depend intrinsically on a ready supply of fresh water. So if we want to talk about coffee produced in a sustainable manner then wastewater must be treated when released into the environment," he concluded.

Latin America produces roughly 70 percent of the world's coffee and is the continent where 31 percent of the world's freshwater resources are located. Yet coffee production generates a great amount of wastewater that is regularly released untreated into rivers, affecting aquatic fauna and flora as well as downstream communities. Additionally, coffee wastewater comes along with tons of organic waste and high toxicity, which affects the soil and generates considerable amounts of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), particularly methane, heavily contributing to climate change.

The Energy from Coffee Wastewater project has been implemented on farms of a variety of sizes. The results of the project range from preventing local deforestation of native trees to better indoor environments for families who replaced firewood with domestic gas stoves for cooking. Additional outcomes included:

  • Treatment of essentially all water used in coffee processing
  • Over 50 percent less water used during coffee processing
  • Generation of significant amount of biogas used to power households and coffee mills
  • Prevention of the release of GHGs

UTZ Certified — which in December published a new Green Coffee Carbon Footprint Product Category Rule as part of the SAI Platform’s Coffee Working Group — is now introducing the technology in Peru and Brazil. UTZ hopes to get further funds and wider industry support to replicate the initiative in Africa and Asia.

Speaking of waste from the coffee production process, in April a company called CF Global Holdings (CFG) announced the launch of Coffee Flour™, a new type of flour derived from coffee cherries. Coffee cherry pulp is a typically discarded byproduct of coffee production; now CFG’s process dries and mills the coffee cherry pulp into Coffee Flour, upcycling a previously wasted material into an additional and sustainable source of revenue for small-scale coffee farmers worldwide.

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