Why Should Coffee Roasters Use Sustainable Inks On Packaging?

Nick Sebas
January 25, 2021
sustainable inks

For specialty coffee roasters, it can be difficult to find coffee packaging that’s completely sustainable. Not only do they need to think about various materials and components such as degassing valves, they must also consider the inks they use. 

Traditional, solvent-based inks are rapidly losing popularity, as a growing number of consumers demand greener packaging solutions. This has encouraged roasters to seek more sustainable alternatives, such as water-based inks, that are biodegradable and emit fewer harmful gases into the environment.

Read on to find out more about sustainable inks and their benefits for specialty roasters.

See also: What Is Compostable Coffee Packaging?


Packaging Inks: What Are The Problems?

For thousands of years, inks have been used for all kinds of purposes, from cave decorations and ancient manuscripts, to glossy magazines and broadsheet newspapers.

However, in recent years, the sustainability of certain types of ink used in packaging has been called into question.

One of the main issues is the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are compounds derived from petroleum fuels, hydraulic fluids, paint thinners, and dry cleaning agents that have a high vapour pressure and low water solubility.

Printing inks and coatings used in packaging contain VOCs in varying amounts depending on the type of ink, the drying and printing process, the substrate, and various end-use requirements. With the exception of water-based inks, when the wet ink dries on the printed surface, nearly all the weight lost is made up of VOCs.

When VOCs and nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere react in the presence of sunlight, they produce ground-level ozone. This is a major component of urban smog, which can negatively impact the environment and present a hazard to people’s health.

The EPA reports that, among major industries, printing ranks fifth in toxic VOC emissions, ahead of the automobile industry. That being said, greater awareness of these compounds and their negative impact has led to significant change. Since 1970, the volume of VOC emissions per year in the US has fallen from more than 34 million tons to less than 16 million.

mtpak coffee packaging

What Sustainable Inks Are Available To Specialty Coffee Roasters?

For specialty coffee roasters, using ink with high levels of VOCs can have a damaging impact on their brand.

Today, coffee consumers demand sustainability at every level of production, and that includes the ink used on their packaging. A study by Trivium Packaging found that 74% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, with nearly a quarter willing to pay for a 10% increase or more in cost. 

Therefore, by failing to acknowledge the effect of inks on the environment and make corresponding changes, roasters could lose customers to more eco-friendly brands. 

Low-VOC printing is an effective option for roasters looking to cut down on the emission of VOCs produced in the manufacture of packaging. Water-based, soy-based, or vegetable-based solvents are all low in VOC, and work particularly well on paper substrates. 

They are better for air quality, pose less of a risk to workers, and have a significantly lower impact overall on the environment when compared to traditional inks. Unlike plastisol inks, which contain plastics or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), low-VOC inks are fully biodegradable.

Additionally, because low-VOC inks are made from organic substances, they break down completely when disposed of correctly, without releasing any harmful toxins into the environment. Inks are not typically included in compostability tests as they generally form a relatively small percentage of the material used for packaging; however, despite this, some ink suppliers have ensured that their inks meet OK Compost HOME standards.

coffee packaging sustainable inks

What To Consider When Choosing Sustainable Inks

While sustainable inks are becoming increasingly popular among specialty coffee roasters, there are a number of factors to consider before making the switch.

Sustainable inks, such as water-based inks, tend to cost more than solvent-based inks because of the time it takes for them to dry and the facilities that are available to produce them. This is particularly important for roasters who have recently entered the market, as they may want to keep costs down in the early stages of production.

However, because ink makes up such a small percentage of the overall volume of coffee packaging, the cost increase per item is still relatively small. Alternatively, roasters can customise their packaging to include less ink by opting for a more minimalist design.

It is also important to consider how your coffee packaging will be disposed of once it is empty. DTLA Print explains that water-based inks are only eco-friendly when they are used and disposed of in a responsible manner. They add that the majority of long term ecological damage of screen printing is a result of the waste in cleanup, rather than the process or the chemicals.

For that reason, roasters should include information on their packaging about how consumers can correctly dispose of their empty coffee bags. Whether recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable, it’s important to make it as clear as possible to avoid any confusion. 

Equally, if the coffee bags are not widely recyclable despite the use of sustainable inks, roasters can offer a collection service in which consumers can send back any empty bags for recycling or reuse. 

coffee pouch

While it may only seem like a small part of the overall product, ensuring you are using sustainable inks on your coffee packaging is important for your brand. It helps reduce your impact on the environment and outlines a genuine commitment to sustainability.

At MTPak Coffee, we use water-based (flexographic) inks, which are low in volatile organic compounds (VOC). This means that while they are highly resistant to abrasion, water, and heat, they are also compostable and easily removable for recycling, helping create a fully sustainable product.

They can be customised with any of our pouches to reflect the quality of your coffee, both on the inside and outside of your packaging.

For more information on our sustainable inks for coffee packaging, contact our team here.

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