Kraft paper vs. rice paper: Which is best for coffee bags?

Janice Kanniah
November 23, 2021
rice paper coffee bags

Paper-based packaging is one of the oldest forms of food packaging. Despite plastic packaging dominating the market over the last few decades, the tide is once again turning in its favour.

For one, the world has started to recognise the impact that disposable plastic packaging has on the environment. As a result, consumers are increasingly demanding that businesses provide them with more sustainable product packaging options.

Kraft paper and rice paper are two paper-based packaging materials commonly used by coffee roasters. When accompanied by linings, resealable zippers, and degassing valves, these materials can effectively preserve the distinct characteristics of the coffee.

Left untreated or unlined, however, the very qualities that make these materials compostable or biodegradable can actually accelerate coffee ageing, ultimately making it unpleasant to drink.

If you’re trying to decide which of these two sustainable materials to use for your coffee packaging, here’s what you need to know.

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kraft paper coffee bags
Paper coffee packaging has become an increasingly popular option for roasters

Why choose paper packaging for your coffee?

In 2020, Covid-19 prompted many of the world’s governments to put temporary lockdowns in place. This shut down public retailers and resulted in a large percentage of the workforce having to work from home.

Subsequently, online sales of most consumer products increased. At the same time, the pandemic prompted a return to disposable and single use packaging due to hygiene and safety concerns.

For consumers worried about their environmental footprint, this created a new set of concerns. For example, one survey on consumer purchasing habits during the pandemic revealed that online shoppers are unhappy with the volume of packaging material their orders generate.

Furthermore, they’re also unhappy being presented with packaging materials that are challenging to recycle. While many forms of plastic packaging are indeed recyclable, the survey found that almost a fifth of respondents have no access to recycling facilities that accommodate them.

Another survey by global non-profit organisation Two Sides suggests that customers already know how different packaging materials compare when it comes to sustainability. It shows that most prefer paper packaging, as it’s seen to be better for the environment, easier to recycle, and more likely to be home compostable.

Almost a third of consumers believe that brands need to reduce their reliance on non-recyclable packaging, with almost half of the people surveyed willing to switch to a competitor if this doesn’t happen urgently.

Both kraft paper and rice paper packaging have never been more in demand. The global kraft paper industry exceeded $17 billion last year due to increased demand for sustainable and recyclable packaging materials. Furthermore, the demand for edible paper packaging is projected to exceed $581 million by 2027 – a percentage of which can be attributed to rice paper.

rice paper coffee packaging
Rice paper coffee bags can be fully customised to showcase your branding

Rice paper and kraft paper coffee packaging: The pros and cons 

Many coffee roasters favour rice paper for packaging their coffee.

Despite its name, it’s actually produced from renewable and bio-based sources like quintan bark and bamboo.

As these particular raw materials are fairly low maintenance, they don’t consume large volumes of natural resources or have a significant negative impact on the environment.

As a packaging material, rice paper is flexible and strong, but somewhat translucent. It’s often layered when used to package coffee to make it more opaque and enhance its strength and protective qualities.

It’s also frequently lined with aluminium to further protect the coffee from moisture, UV rays, and oxidation, but this drastically reduces its recycling potential.

Kraft paper’s production process recycles most of the water and chemical byproducts it produces. As a packaging material, it’s elastic, tear resistant, and easy to recycle. When left unbleached, its light brown colour is favoured by many for its natural appearance.

While kraft paper is readily available and easy to access, it requires a special coating to make it impervious to moisture and other external elements. It is also often lined with other materials. These coatings and linings impact its recyclability, as is the case with rice paper.

sustainable coffee packaging
Roasters needs to assess their customers’ preference before deciding on coffee packaging

Choosing the best packaging material for your needs 

If used in their natural form, both rice paper and kraft paper are effortlessly biodegradable or recyclable. On the flip side, however, they can’t adequately preserve a coffee’s quality for long periods of time unless lined with another material or coated for added protection.

Which paper-based packaging material you choose can often boil down to the volumes of coffee you’ll be packaging, as well as the recycling facilities available to your customers.

If left unbleached and unlined, kraft paper is a suitable coffee packaging choice if customers have access to paper recycling facilities. All you’ll need to do is communicate to them which waste bin it should go into.

If your local municipality requires homeowners to sort their trash before collection, there’s a very good chance it will be recycled. However, you’ll need to clearly communicate whether any sealing materials or degassing valves need to be removed prior to disposal.

Ideally, you should only use untreated kraft paper to package small volumes of coffee. Larger volumes will need superior protection to extend their lifestyle, which introduces liners and coatings to the process.

Rice paper is also biodegradable when left untreated and unlined. This can make it a better solution in areas where recycling collection and processing facilities aren’t accessible to many customers.

Again, you’ll need to clearly instruct customers on how to dispose of it and, as with kraft paper, you’ll need to communicate if they need to remove any sealing devices or degassing valves. It’s also best if this type of packaging is only used to package small volumes of coffee.

Depending on what options you choose, your packaging’s degassing valves or sealing options may or may not be recyclable. One way to manage this is to request that customers collect these elements and mail them back to you.

Alternatively, you could incentivise returns to your roastery. For example, they could return non-recyclable components in exchange for a discount or a free pouch coffee. This way, you can directly return these elements to their producers, who can then deal with them responsibly.

roastworks recyclable coffee bags
At MTPak Coffee, we offer both rice paper and kraft paper packaging

MTPak Coffee can help you with all your kraft paper and rice paper coffee packaging needs. Whether you’re looking for an all natural solution or high-barrier multilayer options, we can help you design and package any volume of coffee to your exact preferences.

For information about our kraft paper coffee bags, contact our team.

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