Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is one of the world’s most widely used packaging materials, with a market value of more than $30 billion in the US alone.
Owing to its affordability and high barrier properties, LDPE has become a particularly popular choice for coffee bags. It effectively keeps out external factors that can damage the beans, such as oxygen and moisture, while also offering a recyclable option for customers.
However, like all eco-friendly packaging materials, LDPE is only sustainable when disposed of correctly. As such, it’s important for roasters to inform customers as to how and where they can recycle their empty LDPE coffee bags – or risk them ending up in landfill.
Here’s what you need to know about recycling LDPE coffee bags so that you can ensure they end up going to the right place.
Why choose LDPE packaging for coffee?
Polyethylene is one of the most widely produced plastics in the world and LDPE is one of its oldest versions, having been commercially used since the 1930s. It’s a semi-rigid polymer that’s resistant to most chemicals and oils and temperature extremes.
It also has a low water absorption factor and high tensile strength. It’s free from harmful chemicals, making it safe for food packaging, which is its primary application. Because it’s affordable and widely available, LDPE is commonly used to manufacture plastic bags and pouches.
It’s a thermoplastic, meaning it can be melted and reformed infinitely without hampering its strength or flexibility, making it particularly suitable for recycling. Many coffee roasters have switched to LDPE as they move towards offering more sustainable packaging.
Presto Coffee Roasters in London, England, for example, uses LDPE bags. The company explains that plastic is only bad for the environment if it isn’t recycled. In the past, it used bags combining plastic, paper and foil that couldn’t be separated for recycling and had to be incinerated or sent to landfills.
For Presto, LDPE is better than compostable options, as the latter often can’t be composted at home and ends up discarded with the rest of the non-recyclable waste.
How is LDPE coffee packaging recycled?
LDPE is indicated by the plastic resin code number four – but this doesn’t necessarily mean it can be left on your sidewalk for someone to collect. Not all locations have a dedicated pickup program and some will require LDPE waste be dropped off at specific points. Failure to recycle it means it will end up in landfills.
Additionally, different LDPE densities must be recycled separately. Any labels or attachments must be removed before recycling and the material should be clean (or rinsed). Generally speaking, coffee packaging doesn’t get very dirty, but it might need its degassing valve or zipping mechanism removed.
Once the remaining plastic reaches its recycling point, it’s shredded into flakes and then cleaned of any contaminants. These flakes are dried before being melted and formed into pellets.
At this point, it can be combined with virgin LDPE or or used as is, depending on what it’s destined to become. Essentially, your old coffee bags might end up as lids, bottles, or more coffee packaging.
“Switching to a reusable packaging solution is another way to recycle and keep products in circulation for longer,” the company says. “LDPE is the most commonly recycled flexible material in the UK.”
How to ensure your LDPE coffee packaging is properly recycled
Just because LDPE can be recycled, it doesn’t mean it will be. While technically, the consumer is responsible for recycling, how you approach it could shape how customers behave at home.
This could involve you directly participating in the recycling process to guarantee that it’s reused properly, demonstrating your commitment to sustainable business practices to the public.
This could change how consumers view your business. It could also help prevent packaging material shortages in the future, keeping costs down.
Research shows that up to half of all LDPE materials are lost during recycling due to contamination. Improving how these materials are collected and recycled could help meet increased demand for recycled materials in the future.
A recent survey on consumer recycling habits revealed that many people find recycling overwhelming and experience confusion over how materials must be recycled — which can make the entire effort feel pointless or futile.
Here’s how you can ensure your LDPE packaging is correctly disposed of in a way that benefits your business, the environment, and your customers’ peace of mind:
– Make sure that facilities capable of recycling LDPE are easily accessible in your area. They’ll be able to communicate how these materials can be recycled (via bin collection or dropoff) and in what state materials should be disposed of.
– If no facilities exist nearby, you might need to collect the packaging yourself and arrange for its processing. To make this easier, you can encourage customers to drop off their empty packaging at your roastery, or even mail it back to you if they order coffee online.
– Whichever option you choose, you’ll need to clearly communicate your decisions on your packaging. This will help customers see exactly what they need to do and will give them peace of mind as to what happens to their packaging once it’s disposed of.
For instance, Laggers Coffee Roasters in London in the UK is very vocal and transparent about how its packaging is recycled. The company tells customers that they can find recycling points at most major supermarkets.
Alternatively, they also offer a four step process via delivery. Once the customer posts their empty bags to the roastery, it’s shipped to a organisation that will extrude, pelletise and mold it into recycled plastic products.
As an added incentive, customers are given a discount code as a way to say thank you. After all, these customers are ensuring that your business’ vision for sustainability becomes a reality.
For many roasters, LDPE is the go-to choice for packaging both their whole bean and ground coffee. Not only does it have high barrier properties, it is also flexible, affordable, and recyclable.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of different pouch types made from LDPE, including side gusset, flat bottom, and quad seal. They can fully customised according to your needs, while you can also add recyclable components, from resealable zippers to BPA-free degassing valves.