What Is Plant-Based Coffee Packaging?

Janice Kanniah
January 19, 2021

Lightweight, flexible, strong, and affordable, it’s no real surprise that plastic has long since been the go-to packaging material for many coffee roasters.

Yet growing awareness of its negative impact on the environment has resulted in the search for more eco-friendly alternatives. For specialty coffee roasters, plant-based packaging is rapidly gathering speed as a compostable alternative that is still as versatile as traditional plastics.

To find out more about plant-based coffee packaging and its benefits for specialty roasters, I spoke with Jack Zhai, Marketing Director at MTPak Coffee.

See also: What Is Compostable Coffee Packaging?

plant based coffee packaging

What Is Plant-Based Packaging?

Plant-based packaging is made primarily from renewable biological resources, such as wheat, cornstarch, and sugarcane. In commercial composting facilities, these materials can usually be broken down completely within a few months to produce fertiliser for agricultural and horticultural purposes.

With the same versatility as traditional petroleum-based plastics, plant-based materials are considered a reliable and sustainable packaging alternative. While plastic can take more than 500 years to break down, plant-based materials can take as little as 90 days, and leave behind no harmful residue.

For the environment, this provides a number of benefits, including waste reduction, ecosystem conservation, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. It has also helps contribute to the creation of a “circular economy”, a closed-loop economic system aimed at eliminating waste by reintroducing or reusing products back into the cycle.

The majority of plant-based packaging will decompose in either a home composting environment or in commercial composting facilities. However, to be officially recognised as “compostable”, it must meet an industrial standard (EN13432) or carry home composting certifications, such as OK compost HOME.

french press camera and a bag of coffee

Why Use Plant-Based Materials To Package Your Coffee

Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the negative impact of plastic packaging on the environment. 

In a consumer sentiment study, Brandwatch found that internet search results and social media tweets about plastic waste are increasing year-on-year, while research by Accenture shows that consumers are more likely to pay more for sustainable products.

“Plant-based packaging is trendy right now,” says Jack Zhai, our marketing director at MTPak Coffee. “Customers are asking for it because they know how much it benefits the planet.”

A popular plant-based material for coffee packaging is polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is a bioplastic made from the carbohydrates of renewable resources such as cornstarch, cassava, and sugarcane.

PLA acts as a protective barrier against oxygen, moisture, and light in the same way as plastic, helping the coffee preserve its freshness. It is also fully compostable, decomposing into water and carbon dioxide in a commercial composting facility between 45 and 90 days after disposal. This is compared to PET-based products, which can take four times as long.

According to an article in Retail Dive, sustainable packaging promotes a mutual understanding between businesses and consumers, contributing to higher customer loyalty and brand recognition.

For that reason, plant-based packaging made from materials such as PLA offer specialty coffee roasters an opportunity to communicate their commitment to sustainability while limiting their impact on the environment.

coffee pouches

What Should Roasters Consider When Selecting Plant-Based Packaging?

It’s important for specialty coffee roasters to understand that not all plant-based materials protect and preserve coffee equally.

For example, rice paper is made from quintan tree bark and bamboo, and is fully compostable when left untreated. However, to effectively preserve freshness and protect the coffee from moisture, rice paper packaging often requires additional layers and laminates, such as aluminium foil or PLA.

This enables it to withstand transportation and long-term storage. Naturally, adding layers and laminates will increase the cost of producing plant-based packaging, a factor which Jack says roasters need to consider.

“Businesses should carefully examine whether they have the budget to commit to plant-based packaging because, ultimately, it’s more expensive than packaging made from other materials,” he says.

A good way of determining whether or not you should switch to plant-based packaging for your coffee is to balance the cost of a switch against your projected demand for the coming year. If you’ve just started to sell coffee and don’t have an established customer base yet, you might want to start with more affordable packaging options before making the transition further down the line.

It’s also important for customers to know that their coffee bags are compostable. While terms such as “biodegradable”, “eco-friendly”, and “bio-based” can be found across various products, they can be misleading.

A reliable way of informing customers about their coffee bags is through certifications on packaging. Independent organisations give certifications to businesses after assessing their compliance to a certain set of standards. These include OK compost, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and Rainforest Alliance International.

Not only do certifications demonstrate a roaster’s tangible commitment to improving the world around them, they also provide a sense of trust between the roaster and consumer.

At MTPak Coffee, our compostable packaging is certified OK compost HOME and OK compost INDUSTRIAL, meaning it will decompose at commercial composting facilities as well as compost heaps at home. This also includes other components, such as zippers, degassing valves, and water-based inks.

plant based coffee packaging

Plastic packaging plays an important role in protecting coffee and extending its shelf life. However, each year, Europe generates approximately 25 million tonnes of plastic waste per year, a large percentage of which ends up going to landfill or polluting the ocean.

With ever-greater demands to become more eco-friendly, renewable plant-based packaging offers a great alternative to traditional plastics. Offering similar characteristics to plastic, they make the transition to sustainable packaging seamless, while communicating a tangible commitment to the environment.

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of fully compostable plant-based coffee packaging for specialty coffee roasters, including PLA and rice paper. We can help you strike the perfect balance between preserving the freshness of your coffee and delivering a more eco-friendly product with our compostable zippers, valves, and water-based inks. 

For more information on our plant-based packaging, contact our team here.

MTPak Coffee

Photo credits: MTPak Coffee

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Janice Kanniah
Janice Kanniah

Janice is freelance writer based in South Africa and has written for MTPak Coffee since 2020. Her interests are in writing about sustainability, the circular economy, and the future of the environment.

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