It’s six a.m. My husband and I are sitting across from each other, steaming mugs of Eight O’Clock coffee on the table between us. We’re having a tough talk. And, from the way my husband’s lips are pinched together, it’s not going my way.
Me: “Honest. All I was trying to do was Google paper coffee filters. But then one click led to another…”
My husband sighs. “Like always.”
A word about coffee filters, (since I’d promised to blog about them before I got sidetracked.): Most paper ones are made from the pulp of fast growing, soft trees, like pine, which likely grow in tree farms. (If there are brands out there made from post consumer recyclables, I couldn’t find them.) The filters can be white or brown, and there are also reusable baskets. With wet coffee grounds in them, paper filters break down easily in landfills. They can also be tossed into the composter, when we someday get one.
The problem is, the coffee filters we currently use are white. So, chances are elemental bleach is used to make them. Like with other paper milled products, byproducts from chemicals used in manufacturing can find their way into the air, ground, and water.
At least with coffee filters our choices are easy:
We can continue using the white ones on top of our fridge, or
switch to an unbleached version, which is kinder to the environment, or
go with the reusable one that came with our new coffee maker. That’s best for the environment, but it’s harder to clean and may raise our cholesterol.
(The part about cholesterol may seem random, but I read somewhere that paper filters do the good job of absorbing something in the coffee that raises LDLs.)
Back to the tough talk:
My husband: “I have no problem with switching to brown filters.”
Me: “Another easy green change! Thank you! But what about our coffee? Now that we know what we know, we can’t just––”
My husband stops me mid sentence with his stare. “Does everything have to change?”
“We’ve had Eight O’Clock coffee every morning for the past fifteen years. I…” He lowers his eyes. I’m instantly sad for him.
Me: “But until now we didn’t know about the small farmers in Brazil.”
My husband: “Brazil? Every week you come up with something else. I liked it better when we didn’t think about every little thing. Now, not only are we were trying to save the planet, but we have to worry about Brazilian farmers.”
“Brazil is part of the planet,” I snap. “So are the other countries where coffee plants grow.” My husband’s chin stiffens. I regret snapping. I slide my hand across the table onto his. “The problems with coffee goes further than the farmers.”
Once upon a time coffee grew in the shade:
Coffee is a small shrub that naturally grows on forest floors in some of the most delicate eco-systems on the planet. To grow and harvest it, the sustainable practice called Shade Growing has been handed down for generations. Shade Growing is where the shrubs grow naturally under the canopy of a rainforest.
Then coffee became the globe’s second most traded commodity next to crude oil:
In the 1970’s coffee companies, like Nestle, put pressure on local tribes to let them clear vast acres of rainforest, so coffee could be planted in rows, and farmers could produce more.
This method of coffee farming is called sun cultivation and it comes with a cost. Because large sections of rainforest are destroyed, the bio-diversity of plant and
animal life that used to help control insects and plants that damage coffee crops, and which also provide nutrients to the soil have disappeared, too. That means farmers have to now rely on pesticides and herbicides, as well as fertilizer to grow coffee. Plus, with the rainforest canopy gone, more water is needed to provide moisture.
The dangers of industrializing coffee farming: Sustained exposure to chemicals have impacted the health of the men, women, and children who work the farms. Of concern too, these artificial means of growing coffee is a one-two-punch to the rainforests that keeps coming, because whatever remains of the eco-system continues to be harmed by it.
The tough talk continued:
My husband: “Okay. Maybe coffee companies aren’t being nice to locals or responsible with the rainforest. But I like my coffee. It tastes good and the price is right. Why should I give it up for something that’s happening 5,000 miles away?”
Me: “Here’s one reason. Water. The rainforests only make up 7% of the planet and yet they help maintain the climate and water cycle for all of it.”
My husband: “I just buy a 2 1/2 pound bag every month. I don’t see how that–––”
Me: “The little choices add up to things that matters. But here’s the good news. There are coffee companies that believe that, too. If we choose to buy from them, it makes us part of the solution.”
Three certifications that say a coffee company is doing right by people and the planet:
Fair Trade: Coffee grown using ethical standards and treatment, like no child laborers and share of profits for local farmers.
Shade Grown: Coffee grown naturally, within forests.
Organic: Coffee grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals.
Last word in the tough talk:
Me: “Higher Ground coffee may cost a little more than Eight O’Clock, but the difference is not astronomical.” I squeeze my husband’s hand. “If it’s better for the planet, can’t we at least try it.”
My husband gives me his sweet smile, which makes me smile, too.
I knew he’d come around.