The days are getting shorter. The temperatures are slowly falling. The flowy tops are replaced with knitted jumpers. It all means only one thing. Your inner basic white b*tch is back in town and so are the endless cups of Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL). According to Regional Business News, between 2003, the year it was first introduced, and 2015, Starbucks sold more than 200 million cups of PSL, swiftly outselling Peppermint Mocha and Eggnog Latte.
But while its shockingly low amount of caffeine might not be the reason behind the global craze – the coffee giant generated a revenue of over $80 million in some seasons just from PSL alone -, it is easy to understand our cravings for it.
Besides the syrupy sweetness (50g or 12 teaspoons of sugar per each Grande), research has suggested that it all essentially comes down to scents. Alan Hirsch, the founder of the Smell and Taste Treatment Research, thinks that the warmth of cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin evokes nostalgic feelings of our childhood, kindling a sense of comfort and security. And, of course, a cup (or two) look great on social media – as of September 2018, there are over 430 thousand Instagram posts with the hashtag #pumpkinspicelatte.
16 ounces – or just over 450ml – of pure, creamy sweetness, pumpkin spice, airy whipped cream – all served in a pretty takeaway cup with autumnal designs. An innocent treat to indulge every once in a while.
Except for the fact that it’s…not. Our favourite fall beverage is right there at the top with all the other culprits behind the environmental problems – the agriculture industry, urban development, overpopulation and so on. From the adorable cup to the generous dollop of whipped cream, the 380 calorie seasonal drink is as much of a disaster for the planet as it is for your abs.
1. The shot of espresso in your pumpkin spice latte
Ever since coffee-drinking became a daily custom back in the 15th century southern Arabia, the public has got hooked on the buzz, and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee now fills the cities worldwide, where coffee shops seem to have popped up on every corner.
In the UK alone, the number of coffee shops just a decade ago and now has doubled up to 22‘000, and in the USA the same number is believed to get as high as 131’000. Coffee is no longer just something we reach for to be able to push for an all-nighter or a gym session. It has become an essential part of the modern-day lifestyle.
These outlets lure us in with their homely atmosphere where we feel that indeed, I do deserve to treat myself with a slice of cake and a creamy latte. And by all means – you do. But this comes at a high cost; and not only to your bank balance where, as reported by Buddy Loans, our obsession with the drink could cost us £15,000 (or roughly $ 19’440) over lifetime.
To keep up with the ever so growing demand – each year, we consume about 10 million tonnes of the beverage -, suppliers are pressured to adopt more harmful methods of coffee bean cultivating.
The Amazon rainforest in Brazil, where coffee export continues to be the driving force to the national economy, is the place that’s underwent the most drastic change. Since the 1980s, over 2.5 million acres have been cleared to be replaced by coffee plantations – just over 3’000 times the size of the Central Park in New York City.
Not only this mutation cuts off a significant dose of oxygen – that PSL you’re having right now…it’s literally choking you -, but also destroying the existing ecosystem and natural wildlife, the majority of which cannot be found anywhere else on the planet.
2. The cup
Disposable? Not really.
When ordering the hot beverage on the go, many don’t realise that the seemingly harmless paper cup is not just paper.
To prevent it from leaking and ruining your jeans, as well as to keep the drink warm, manufacturers line each cup with a thin layer of polyethylene – a chemical compound we know as plastic. While plastic itself is a widely recycled product, the regular facilities are not equipped to separate this inner coating from the paper, and only 1 in every 400 cups, or 0.0025%, is recycled. As for the plastic lids – they’re as much of an environmental tragedy as plastic straws, single use make-up wipes and cotton buds.
The result? 40’000 tonnes worth of 3 billion disposable coffee cups that wind up in the ever-growing piles at landfill sites each year. This means that tiny molecules of plastic will inevitably percolate through the ground, exposing the soil to contamination and endangering whole ecosystems. And burning this waste is not the answer – it produces the toxic greenhouse gas emissions which lead to global warming, the aftermath of which we can already see today.
3. The whipped cream
The airy white cream isn’t that green after all.
Cows are no longer just domesticated animals each family owns for their own dairy consumption. They’ve become machines brought and raised at a rapid speed to feed an entire population intimidated of calcium deficiency.
A report by Satista, online market research company, shows that as of 2018, the estimated global milk production will skyrocket to 500 million metric tonnes. In the 1960s, this number was around 20 million – do the maths yourself. And just as about with almost everything the man has invented and brought about, this, too, hasn’t left nature unscratched.
Contrary to the widespread assumption that transportation and the burning of fossil fuels are the largest air polluters, it is, in fact, animal agriculture that is choking the Earth with the tightest grip. Along with meat companies, the dairy industry is accountable for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. And it all comes down to one simple by-product of dairy production. Methane.
Studies have shown that the volume of methane flowing from dairy farms is up to 100 more ruinous than carbon dioxide (CO2) on a 20 year timeframe. And cows – they produce a lot of it. On average, cows emit 150 billion gallons of methane each day that eventually ends up residing both in the air and in our lungs.
The story, however, doesn’t end there. Our love for the fluffy sweet cream on top is more destructive than we might think. Water is another concern linked with conventional dairy farming.
Unlike almond milk or soy milk – the two most widely consumed dairy alternatives -, regular cow’s milk requires almost twice as much water to be produced. From irrigating crops to sanitising the necessary equipment, each gallon of milk is worth 2’000 gallons of water.
Perhaps it’s time to switch to almond milk that your healh-obsessed vegan friend is having? I promise, it’s not that bad!
Still fancy your Pumpkin Spice Latte?
Boycotting coffee shops probably isn’t the solution that many of us are willing to take. But the next time when you’re walking towards the barista who’s seen you already 4 times this week, think about all this. Do I really need it? Perhaps this time I can stay indoors and not ask for a signed paper cup? Is this cup of Pumpkin Spice Latte – 5 minutes of joy – worth the decades, if not entire centuries, of climatic cataclysms yet to come?