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Washed up: reducing the harmful effects of waste water from coffee production

From the March 2012 issue.

Wastewater has long been one of the most damaging by-products from coffee processing. Researchers are starting to take an economically-focused approach to provide incentives for plants to deal with these dangerous effluents.

Ken Calvert Coffee waste waterWind the clock back a few decades, and Ken Calvert, a retired Energy and Wastes Treatment Engineer, says it wouldn’t be uncommon to find black water flowing up to 20 kilometres downstream from a coffee processing plant.

“Historically, coffee factories were not liked much by the people in nearby communities,” says the New Zealand researcher. “The black colour of the water was naturally a bit of a problem for them.”

The dangers of wastewater from coffee processing, Calvert explains, are about a lot more than aesthetics. The effluents from washed and semi-washed methods are loaded with organic matter and high in toxicity. The results can lead to degradation of the level of oxygen in water, which can kill off virtually all aquatic life.

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