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Sustainability Discoveries through Data Research

As a data researcher, you are always ready for new topics to investigate.

All of us have specific experiences and expectations, and it’s challenging to stay unbiased and look at things like a 5-year old when you are actually in your 40’s. Of course, some individuals have these capabilities, but most usually have a solid opinion about things.

For example, have you ever imagined that coffee is worse than beef in terms of environmental impact?

Of course, people eat much more meat than are capable of drinking coffee, but still, that's the fact.

After 6 months of eye-opening discoveries, I was thrilled to share them with my friends. Some of my friends are very environmentally conscious people. They follow an environmentally friendly diet (less meat, more fruits and vegetables), buy clothes from sustainable shops, and recycle. I love them! And I also have friends who don’t care much, but I was able to surprise or even shock some of them with some of the things I learned.

Let me share some of the stories with you:

I used to think that a glass bottle is always better than the plastic one, even if the last one is made of recyclable material. You may know glass doesn’t have any harmful chemicals like plastic, and it doesn’t lose any of its properties during the recycling process. You can recycle glass as much as you want and it’ll be the same. That doesn’t work with plastic. (source) After a particular cycle, it will lose its potential for the new round. If you have the same assumptions, you are as wrong as I was about 6 months ago.

Let me show you why:

  • The glass bottle is heavier than plastic ones, and that’s why it has a higher carbon footprint during transportation. Transportation is responsible for more than 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in the food industry. (source)
  • The production of glass requires sand. Unfortunately, only specific sand can be used (not from the beach or the desert), and it’s a finite resource, and we use it more than the planet can recover. (source)
  • The recyclability of glass bottles is lower than it should be, and some sources say it’s 32% in the United States of America and about 76% in Europe. One thing is accurate, and it's not 100% like it should be.
The outcome is pretty clear here. The plastic bottle is better for climate change than the glass one.

Are you surprised? I was 🙂

Another exciting discovery is related to coffee.

We all know that beef has a significant impact on the environment. If you google beef environmental impact, you will find it in the top 3 (see the images section). If we take 1 kg of beef and 1 kg of grounded coffee, you will know that coffee is not much better but even worse in several impact categories. 🐮Here, at Sustained, we are using the ReCiPe 2016 midpoint (H) method for life cycle assessment and our scores are based on this methodology.

Please have a look at this table below:

I took only 7 impacts out of 17 that methodology offers us, but the results are shocking. Ground or decaf coffee is worse in 5 categories out of 7. If you love coffee, we're not going to ask you to stop drinking it; just be aware of its impact next time you reach for your mug. The question is more: why does beef have such a bad reputation when the coffee is worse? 🤔

To conclude, always check the information you see.

Data doesn’t lie.