A guide to coffee packaging recycling schemes

Janice Kanniah
December 10, 2021
coffee packaging collection schemes

The problem of what to do with single-use coffee packaging once it has served its purpose has plagued roasters for years.

If it is not disposed of correctly, the majority of empty coffee packaging ends up going to landfill sites where it emits greenhouse gases as it breaks down.

Alternatively, it may go to an incinerator, where carbon and nitrous oxide emissions pollute the atmosphere and contribute further to global warming.

Recyclable coffee packaging has gone some way to solving this problem. However, not all consumers have access to recycling facilities equipped to deal with multilayer bags.

What’s more, many consumers lack the necessary information to properly dispose of their packaging, whether recyclable or not.

This is where recycling schemes come in. Designed to centralise the recycling of products and eliminate waste, recycling schemes offer a convenient, accessible, and reliable way to dispose of used coffee packaging.

A recent survey by the World Economic Forum reveals that over three-quarters of people believe recycling is important. Therefore, offering a recycling collection scheme can help roasters gain a competitive advantage and showcase a tangible commitment to sustainability.

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What is a coffee packaging collection scheme?

It’s estimated that the world generates millions of tons of flexible packaging waste every year. Most of this waste is collected by residual general waste streams, typically called “kerbside recycling”.

Kerbside recycling helps to collect large volumes of packaging waste for recycling. However, many are limited by a lack of funding and unclear collection targets. This means they might only collect waste that can be processed nearby by a recycling facility or waste that local recyclers will pay a good price for.

Alternatively they might collect all waste, but face trouble sorting it. This makes it costly and time consuming to recycle and less likely to produce a quality recycled material. Failing to sort it also means that insufficient volumes of a certain material type are present for recycling.

Coffee packaging collection schemes exist to solve these problems. They collect and recycle less common forms of waste to prevent it from being incinerated or dumped in a landfill.

They often partner with existing council programmes, businesses, and consumers for waste collection.

terracycle hq

Which packaging collection schemes are available to roasters?

As concerns grow over the environmental impact of product packaging, more and more recycling collection schemes have emerged, many of which have caught on among some of the world’s biggest brands.

Only this year, McDonald’s partnered with waste management company Loop to pilot a takeaway cup return scheme for customers.

The way it works is customers pay a $1 deposit for the cup, which they can take back and dispose of in one of Loop’s dedicated bins. The used cups are then cleaned and reused.

For coffee packaging, one of the most well-known recycling collection firms is TerraCycle.

Founded 20 years ago in New Jersey, TerraCycle currently operates in 22 countries worldwide, where it collects and recycles hard-to-recycle waste through national recycling platforms.

Their overarching aim is to help companies “tighten the circle and shift from single use to reusable ecosystems”. Among the various initiatives that feed into this aim are their Zero Waste Boxes.

These small, versatile boxes streamline the collection and recycling of various packaging materials. 

Businesses can simply order a collection box for use at their facilities, fill it, and then use the pre-paid (carbon neutral) shipping provided to send it back to TerraCycle.

For coffee bags, they offer dedicated boxes with specific options for biodegradable plastics such as polylactic acid (PLA) or low-density polyethylene (LDPE). As the boxes come in a range of sizes, they’re suited for use by even small roasters with limited floor space.

Seven Miles Coffee Roasters in Sydney, Australia allow customers to recycle their used coffee bags. Once collected the bags are shredded, washed, and converted into granules.

These granules are purchased by outdoor goods manufacturers to make items like picnic tables, fences, and pallets. For every shipment over 3kg they send to TerraCycle, they earn one Australia dollar per kilogram of waste collected towards their chosen non-profit organisation or school.

In a recent article, Seven Miles Roasters CEO Jenny Willits said: “We know our consumers want to make more sustainable choices – and our exciting new TerraCycle partnership means this can now include even the bags their coffee comes in.”

recyclable coffee bags with qr code

How to successfully implement a packaging collection scheme

Packaging collection schemes are an affordable and convenient way to ensure your packaging ends up being properly recycled.

However, it is not as simple as partnering with a waste management company, before sitting back and relaxing. Roasters must take measures to educate their customers on how to return their used packaging.

For one, you will need to let customers know their packaging is recyclable in the first place. To do this, you should include instructions on your bags about what customers need to do once they finish the coffee.

This could be a couple of sentences or in the form of a scannable QR code that takes them to a more detailed landing page.

Customers will also need to be incentivised to return their packaging. You can communicate this to them by including details of what will happen to the packaging after collection and how it will keep it from ending up in a landfill, the ocean or incinerator.

To ensure that they return their packaging in good condition you could offer customers a discount for upcoming coffee purchases or a free gift after returning a certain amount of bags.

Modern Standard Coffee is one such company that does this. Working with Modern Standard Coffee will then reimburse the cost of postage to their customers as well as offering a discount on their next orders.

coffee packaging recycling scheme
Coffee packaging recycling schemes are beneficial for both roasters and consumers

Choosing a packaging collection scheme is only one part of ensuring your coffee packaging is recycled appropriately. You’ll also need to ensure you choose coffee packaging that’s geared towards recycling and reuse.

It will also increase your chances of success if the packaging expert in question can help you brand your packaging appropriately and ensure any additions (such as your printing ink, degassing valves and sealing mechanisms) are also recyclable or can otherwise be appropriately disposed of.

MTPak Coffee are coffee packaging experts that can help your roasting business by supplying it with fully recyclable or biodegradable coffee packaging in a range of pouch shapes and sizes. For more information on how they can help you, contact them today.

For information on our sustainable coffee bags, contact our team.

Photo credits: TerraCycle, (29 September 2011)

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