Central American farmers generate energy from coffee wastewater

The '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, run by sustainable farming organisation UTZ Certified, has been implemented in a range of different size coffee farms in Latin America, with the goal of addressing environmental and health problems caused by the wastewater produced in the coffee industry.

“Coffee production is only environmentally sustainable when water is used efficiently and polluted water from the wet-mill process is treated,” explained UTZ Certified’s executive director Han De Groot. “Local ecosystems do not have the capacity to clean the large amounts of contaminated fluids.

“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.”

UTZ says the project has so far had a positive environmental and economic impact on over 5,000 people in the various regions, which has inspired the organisation to replicate the initiative in other countries.

Corrective actions

Latin America produces around 70% of the world’s coffee and is the continent where 31% 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, particularly methane, heavily contributing to climate change.

UTZ Certified is currently introducing the technology in Peru and Brazil, and the organisation hopes to get further funds and industry’s support to replicate the initiative in Africa and Asia. The Energy from Coffee Wastewater programme includes requirements for managing water in the coffee industry. Farmers must put in place a water quality analysis and monitoring program, so corrective actions can be applied when needed.

Earlier today (27 August), edie reported that Nestle’s coffee brand Nespresso is accelerating its sustainability focus with the launch of an ambitious new programme to become ‘carbon neutral’ by 2020. Read more here.

Luke Nicholls

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