Contributing to a circular economy has never been more important for coffee roasters. It’s common knowledge that only a small percentage of waste gets recycled, with most being burned or dumped into landfills or water sources.
The circular economy prioritises reusing, recycling, or repurposing materials at every production stage. That’s why you should be mindful of all the waste you create in your roastery, and not just the waste your packaged coffee generates.
Unfortunately, you can’t control everything. For example, you may not know how the coffee producers who supply you with coffee dispose of their harvesting and processing waste. However, you can control what happens after you receive their ready-to-roast green coffee.
Green coffee is generally shipped in large jute (also referred to as burlap or hessian) sacks, which typically carry 60kg of beans. Green coffee must be continually ordered for roasting, so you probably end up with a fair amount of empty jute sacks every month.
Before you throw them away, you should consider exploring ways to repurpose them. Here are a few ideas.
What are green coffee sacks?
Not many packaging materials can claim that they’ve been used to package the same product for hundreds of years. Jute sacks can.
When spun, jute creates a strong but affordably-priced fibre that can withstand stress without warping or stretching. It’s also breathable, making it popular for storing and transporting agricultural goods.
Brazilian producers started using jute bags to store their coffee in the 19th century. Despite some producers switching to large volume plastic bags or containers, most still use jute sacks, making them a common sight around the world.
The sacks we use today also haven’t changed much since they were first used. One major change, however, has been the addition of a lining in the sacks to protect the coffee from moisture, air, and contaminates.
As jute is a compostable and recyclable material, you might be wondering why finding new uses for jute sacks is better than recycling them or switching to another material. Within a circular economy, reducing the use of something is ideal, but not always practical.
Jute sacks are already an eco-friendly, affordable, and widely available green coffee packaging medium. Additionally, recycling facilities aren’t always accessible and the process also consumes energy and produces pollution.
Finding ways to repurpose coffee sacks is far more practical. Thankfully, the qualities that make jute sacks suitable for transporting coffee over long distances in harsh conditions also make them suitable for a host of other uses.
Creative ways to reuse jute bags
Instead of throwing your jute sacks away, consider the following options:
Donate them to charity
Sadly, not every roaster has the time or the desire to repurpose their jute sacks.If you still want to make a difference, you could sell them to customers for a nominal fee and donate the proceeds to charity.
You can also use this as an opportunity to educate customers on what the sacks are, where they come from, and common household uses for them. For example, they can be used to stuff pet bedding. They can also be burned as fire starters.
Origin Coffee, a roastery and café in Cornwall, UK, receives about 400 sacks a week. It sells them to customers online, donating the proceeds to Project Waterfall, an organisation that helps global coffee-growing communities access sanitation and clean water.
Another option is to donate them to an organisation that can repurpose the materials for other uses. For example, Australia’s Vittoria Coffee donates its sacks to Tulgeen Disability Services in New South Wales.
This social enterprise employs disabled adults who transform the sacks into library bags, wood carriers, and more, which they then sell for their own benefit.
Use them for decoration
Coffees from specific origins often come in appropriately branded jute sacks. You can use these to decorate your coffee shop or roastery in a way that emphasises your coffee’s unique origins and your close connection with the producers farming the coffee.
For example, you could sew a portion of a jute sack around a foam layer to form rustic cushions. Sacks featuring colourful images or text can also be framed and mounted as art.
Those of us with more advanced creative skills can go one step further and transform these sacks into furniture, window blinds, or even lampshades. The options are limited only by your imagination.
Help save the bees
Bees are critical to the planet, acting as pollinators and helping to sustain biodiversity and ecosystems that we rely on for food production. Despite this, the loss of their natural habitats and climate change have severely decreased their global population.
Interestingly, commercial and non-profit beekeepers can use jute bags to help maintain their hives. Burning the sacks produces a non-toxic smoke that helps keep bees calm when a beekeeper needs to inspect a hive to make sure it’s healthy.
You can donate your jute sacks to local beekeepers or non-profit conservation organisations for this purpose.
Support farmers and gardens
Jute sacks have a plethora of farming applications. When filled with straw or hay, they make suitable animal bedding, as well as flooring and insulation for coops.
They can form weed mats that prevent erosion and keep weeds from growing in earmarked plots, eliminating the need for harmful chemicals. As an added bonus, they keep the underlying soil moist and ready for planting.
Jute sacks can even be used to create portable planters. The texture of the fabric is ideal for aeration and drainage. Furthermore, as the material is breathable and absorbent, it can be used to cover compost heaps or plants to protect them from direct heat or frost.
Some farms could even use these bags to create a new income stream. A farming community in the Eastern Cape in South Africa has started the Whakahou Tree Project, which removes alien trees from the land. These are then sold as eco-friendly Christmas trees and are packaged and sold in donated jute sacks.
Finding ways to keep your used jute sacks out of landfills is a great way to start operating a more sustainable roastery. It could be your first step to operating using the principles of circular economy.
The next big step is to ensure that your primary source of waste – your coffee packaging – is similarly eco-friendly.
MTPak Coffee can help you package your coffee using recyclable and compostable materials that have a minimal impact on the planet.