What Is Recyclable Coffee Packaging?

TJ Grant
December 21, 2020
coffee packaging

Recycling is an important way to reduce waste, recover valuable materials, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and conserve energy.

If you are a specialty coffee roaster, you may have noticed that each year, more and more roasters have incorporated recyclable packaging into their product. 

Part of the reason for this is due to “green” trends in third wave coffee culture that have led consumers to increasingly look for companies who share their eco-friendly values. 

If roasters don’t display a concerted effort to reduce their impact on the environment by switching to recyclable packaging, these consumers may decide to purchase coffee from roasters who showcase their commitment to sustainability.

But what exactly makes coffee packaging “recyclable”, and which materials can you use? Read on to find out.

See also: What Is Rate Of Rise (RoR)?

An image of custom-printed recyclable coffee packaging, recyclable coffee bags, custom-printed coffee bags, yellow and white recyclable coffee bags in an article on Recyclable Coffee Packaging

What Does “Recyclable” Mean?

The concept of converting waste into reusable material has existed for centuries. However, it wasn’t until the 1970s, in the face of rising energy costs and concerns over increasing waste, that the importance of recycling was brought to international attention. 

Nowadays, for something to qualify as recyclable the material must be capable of being used again, either for the same purpose or for a new product. 

The aim is to reduce the consumption of raw materials, thereby reducing energy usage, air pollution, and water pollution. It also offers a sustainable solution to regular waste streams by lowering input into municipal landfills.

The universal recycling symbol is a triangle made up of three arrows looping back on themselves in a clockwise direction. This indicates that a product can be recycled, but it does not denote whether it has been produced from recycled materials. It can sometimes be found with a percentage in the middle, which signifies how much of the product is derived from recycled materials. 

For coffee roasters, certifications are a good way of informing consumers that your packaging is recyclable. For example, the “Mobius loop” indicates that the packaging is recyclable, while the “Green Dot” signifies to the consumer that the roaster has made a financial contribution towards recycling efforts. 

An image of three black recyclable coffee bags with custom-printed pink labels on a hot pink background in an article on Recyclable Coffee Packaging

Recycling Plastic Coffee Packaging

It can be somewhat difficult to decipher the recycling symbols on plastic coffee packaging, not to mention determining which plastics can and can’t be recycled at local facilities. 

The best way to check is to refer to the number in the middle of the recycling symbol, called the Resin Identification Codes (RIC). These range from one to seven, and inform the consumer as to what plastic is used in the packaging. As a general rule, the lower the number, the easier the plastic is to recycle.

The majority of plastic specialty coffee packaging is made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE). This has an RIC of four, which means most cities will accept it at drop-off recycling facilities.  

At MTPak Coffee, we offer coffee packaging made from LDPE, among other materials. It’s recognised for its flexibility and durability, making it a useful material for coffee packaging. It is also 100% recyclable. 

This is because, in the majority of cases, it can be taken to the nearest recycling unit to be disposed of, or collected by coffee roasters as part of a recycling scheme.

This helps specialty coffee roasters reduce their carbon footprint, and outlines their commitment to environmental sustainability, while ensuring their coffee arrives to the customer as fresh as possible.

It is also important, however, to consider degassing valves. Not all are recyclable in the same way as the packaging, and may need to be removed before the packaging is taken to a recycling facility. 

To make your packaging completely sustainable, compostable degassing valves are an option for roastes. While they’re more expensive than their plastic alternatives, they’re effective at demonstrating a genuine commitment to greener practices.

An image of recyclable coffee packaging, custom-printed recyclable coffee bags, in an article on Recyclable Coffee Packaging

How To Dispose Of Recyclable Coffee Packaging

Incorrectly disposing of recyclable products can have a negative impact on the environment, and make its recyclable qualities redundant. Therefore, it’s important to make sure specialty coffee roasters and consumers know how their packaging can be recycled.

The easiest way to recycle packaging is to dispose of it in the correct waste bin, either at home or in designated communal recycling areas, such as at supermarkets. 

However, many specialty coffee bags are made of multiple layers. In this case, it’s important that these are separated and disposed of individually.

Recycling requirements are usually specific to regions within different countries, which means consumers should always check their local waste disposal guidelines before throwing away any coffee bags. 

One of the most important factors to consider when disposing of recyclable packaging is to ensure that it’s clean and free from contaminants. In the US, one in four waste packages cannot be recycled because they contain contaminants, such as food debris, for instance.

For coffee packaging, consumers should ensure they remove any residual chaff or small, broken coffee beans to make sure packaging is fully recyclable.

You can also include information for consumers on how best to dispose of their empty pouches by customising packaging or labels, or providing QR codes that can scan with their phones to learn more.

An image of a black recyclable coffee bag made from recyclable packaging materials in an article on Recyclable Coffee Packaging

Why Should You Switch To Recyclable Coffee Packaging?

Recycling is not a total solution for reducing global environmental damage, but it is an important step in the right direction. 

For specialty coffee roasters, switching to recyclable packaging, such as LDPE, PLA, or kraft paper carries a number of benefits.

Not only is this an effective way of reducing your impact on the environment by ensuring less waste ends up in landfill, it also demonstrates a concerted effort to be more sustainable.

Coffee consumers consider a variety of factors when deciding which companies to buy from. Many will feel better about purchasing coffee with packaging they know they can recycle.

Some specialty coffee roasters have even teamed up with recycling companies to ensure their customers are able to successfully dispose of empty coffee pouches. 

For example, Square Mile Coffee Roasters (of which coffee expert James Hoffman is chairman) work with specialist recycling company Enval to collect triple-ply, foil-lined coffee packaging for recycling. 

After collection, the packaging is taken to a processing centre where the constituent parts of the bags (plastic and aluminium foil) are separated and processed, ready to be resold and reused. It allows them to keep their coffee fresh while maintaining a low environmental impact.

If you’d like to make the switch to recyclable coffee packaging, get in touch with our team at MTPak Coffee. 

We offer 100% recyclable LDPE packaging that uses just two layers, compared to the three or four in many coffee bags around the world. Not only does this mean we use less energy when manufacturing it, it’s also much easier for roasters and consumers alike to dispose of sustainably.

For more information on recyclable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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