Study: The Environmental Impact of Coffee Production in Costa Rica

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Costa Rica, a lush country renowned for its natural beauty and biodiversity, has built a robust coffee industry that contributes significantly to its economy. However, this rapid growth has come at a cost to the environment.

Coffee production has led to severe environmental issues, including river pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion. In this comprehensive article, we explore the challenges faced by the Costa Rican coffee industry and the innovative sustainable practices that offer hope for a greener future.

Pollution from Coffee Processing

Q: How does coffee processing impact Costa Rica’s rivers and aquatic life?

The processing of coffee cherries in Costa Rica occurs predominantly at beneficios, where the fruit pulp is removed to expose the coffee beans. Unfortunately, this process generates massive amounts of wastewater and discarded cherry pulp, which are often carelessly dumped into nearby rivers.

As a result, these rivers suffer from oxygen depletion and eutrophication, causing harm to aquatic life. During the 1990s, an alarming 110,000 cubic meters of polluted water were released daily from processing approximately 547,000 tons of coffee over six months1.

Though regulations were established in 1995 to mandate the treatment of solid and liquid waste, enforcement has been inadequate, allowing pollution to persist 2.

A Coffee Farmer Drying Coffee Cherries On A Farm In Costa Rica
A coffee farmer drying coffee cherries on a farm in Costa Rica

Q: Are there any efforts to address pollution from coffee processing?

Amid growing awareness of the environmental impact, some coffee mills have started measuring and reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As of 2019, approximately 24% of mills have made notable improvements in their practices3.

Additionally, organizations like CoopeTarrazú have taken the initiative to sustainably compost coffee pulp, contributing to waste reduction and promoting eco-friendly practices.

Deforestation and Soil Erosion

Q: How has coffee production contributed to deforestation in Costa Rica?

Historically, the expansion of coffee plantations in Costa Rica has led to significant deforestation 4. During the 1970s and 1980s, the country experienced an annual loss of 4% of its forests, driven partly by the demand for land suitable for coffee cultivation. The removal of trees not only affects the balance of ecosystems but also exacerbates soil erosion.

Deforestation disrupts the natural shade cover and moisture retention in the soil, leading to increased erosion. Moreover, practices like burning and tilling further degrade the soil quality, negatively impacting the surrounding environment5.

Q: Are there any reforestation efforts to combat deforestation?

In recent years, there have been commendable efforts to address deforestation issues. Initiatives led by organizations like CoopeTarrazú have utilized coffee pulp compost to reforest degraded areas. This sustainable approach not only helps restore green cover but also provides a viable solution for managing coffee waste.

Sustainable Practices for Environmental Conservation

Shade Grown Coffee In Costa Rica
Shade grown coffee in Costa Rica

Q: What are some sustainable practices that can reduce the environmental impact of coffee production?

The need for sustainable coffee production has become increasingly evident. Various practices offer solutions to minimize the industry’s ecological footprint:

  • Shade-Grown Coffee: Embracing shade-grown coffee protects biodiversity by preserving the natural habitats of flora and fauna. It also reduces the reliance on chemical inputs, promoting a more balanced ecosystem.
  • Certifications like Fair Trade: Certifications like Fair Trade support environmentally friendly practices and promote sustainable livelihoods for coffee growers.
  • Agroforestry and Intercropping: Implementing agroforestry techniques and intercropping diversifies the coffee plantations, creating a more resilient and ecologically sound system.
  • Composting and Natural Pest Control: Utilizing coffee pulp compost helps recycle waste sustainably while adopting natural pest control methods reduces the need for harmful chemicals.

The Growing Market for Sustainable Shade-Grown Coffee

As global awareness of environmental issues increases, so does the demand for eco-friendly and ethically produced coffee. Consumers are now actively seeking shade-grown coffee with certifications that assure sustainability and fair practices. The rising market for such coffee provides incentives for producers to adopt more eco-friendly methods.

Speaking of sustainable coffee…I’ve been trusting Spirit Animal Coffee for years. They’re all about eco-friendly vibes and truly connect with their farmers. You can read my full review of Spirit Animal Coffee here.



The environmental impact of coffee production in Costa Rica has been substantial, leading to pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion. Nevertheless, the industry has taken significant strides in adopting sustainable practices to mitigate its ecological footprint. Initiatives like composting coffee pulp and shade-grown cultivation offer hope for a greener future.

As consumers become more conscientious about their choices, the demand for sustainable coffee continues to grow. By supporting environmentally friendly coffee production, we can protect Costa Rica’s natural beauty while enjoying our favorite morning beverage guilt-free.


  1. Sustainable Management of Coffee By-Products in Costa Rica: The Case of CoopeTarrazú R.L.
  2. Climate Change Threatens Costa Rica Coffee Industry: How Farmers Are Adapting –
  3. Costa Rica’s Coffee Production: Low Carbon and Sustainable –
  4. Coffee Production in Costa Rica –
  5. A Bitter Brew: Coffee Production, Deforestation, Soil Erosion, and Water Contamination in a new tab)
Avatar Of Kelsey Todd
With over two decades in the coffee industry, Kelsey is a seasoned professional barista with roots in Seattle and Santa Barbara. Accredited by The Coffee Association of America and a member of The Baristas Guild, he combines practical expertise with a profound understanding of coffee's history and cultural significance. Kelsey tries his best to balance family time with blogging time and fails miserably.

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