Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, online coffee sales have soared as customers aim to recreate the coffee shop experience at home.
As a result, roasters have the opportunity to broaden their customer base. They also need to reevaluate packaging options to ensure their coffee is in pristine condition when arriving at the customer’s door.
Key to this is choosing packaging with good barrier properties. This is to help preserve the coffee’s freshness by preventing exposure to moisture, oxygen, heat, and light.
Traditionally, aluminium is used in coffee packaging as it is easy to seal, it is puncture and temperature resistant, and it helps to preserve the coffee’s flavours and aromas.
However, this option lacks flexibility and can often be expensive. This has led to the increased use of Vacuum Metalised Polyethylene Terephthalate (VMPET).
Read on to find out more about VMPET and whether it will fit into your business’s sustainability goals.
What is VMPET?
The manufacturing process for VMPET starts with a base material of polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET. This is a transparent and lightweight plastic with superior mechanical strength.
This material is commonly used to make plastic bottles. It can be molded into any shape and provides a suitable surface for stickers to adhere to.
To form VMPET, PET is vacuum coated with a thin layer of metal, roughly 1/175 the thickness of the aluminium typically used on aluminium lined packaging.
This results in metalised PET, which offers the appearance of aluminium foil.
Once a manufacturer has the right equipment, it is quick and easy to produce VMPET. The process starts by heating aluminium, or another suitable metal such as nickel or chromium, to its melting point.
Then, it is dissolved under a vacuum. This will concentrate and condense the melted metal onto a cleaned PET material surface. The resulting VMPET is then cooled and is ready for shaping or printing.
VMPET vs aluminium
While both make use of aluminium, subtle differences exist between aluminium and VMPET.
Aluminium is not as easy to heat seal and can fracture when folded. This means it is best used between multilayer laminate materials in order to withstand rough handling.
Furthermore, VMPET only uses about 1% of aluminium as a raw material compared to standard aluminium lined packaging. This makes it more cost-effective.
In addition, VMPET is a printable material. Due to it being opaque, it reproduces colours and contrasts them accurately. This will help ensure your branding is clear and appealing to consumers.
While VMPET has many advantages over standard aluminium, it does have its shortcomings.
For one, the rates at which water vapour and oxygen permeate the packaging are quite high compared to that of aluminium. This may cause issues if the coffee is stored for a long time before drinking.
As a result, VMPET is commonly used in multilayer packaging with materials such as LDPE to give it superior flavour and aroma protecting qualities.
Is VMPET sustainable?
VMPET is a great choice of packaging material for roasters who prioritise freshness. However, unlike kraft paper, it can be difficult to recycle.
The recycling process depends on the base metal and base plastic that is used, as different types often melt at different temperatures.
Additionally, packaging layers and the materials used to construct them can also impact the recycling process.
As VMPET contains a powder layer of aluminium instead of actual foil, it is often not removed during recycling. Instead, it is melted and blended with the PET used to make plastic bottles.
This can cause issues in recycling equipment that has built-in metal detectors. To prevent damage, these machines may reject an entire batch of material if it detects even the smallest amount of metal.
Alternatively, separating VMPET’s layers before processing could come with a significant cost and inconvenience for your business if you don’t have access to a suitable recycling facility.
Research published in the Journal of Mechanical Engineering and Sciences suggests that extracting the aluminium, silicon, and titanium from used VMPET could be possible in the future. However, this practice is not currently widespread.
Choosing the most sustainable packaging for your coffee
Ultimately, the many different types of materials can make it difficult to choose the right packaging for your coffee.
VMPET is a formidable competitor for aluminium when it comes to multilayer coffee packaging. However, it might not necessarily be the best choice for your roastery.
If you are selling your coffee in large amounts, or it is travelling long distances, you will want its shelf life to be as long as possible. This might mean that sticking with an aluminium lining is a better choice for you.
Similarly, you will need to consider how customers will treat their used packaging. If your customers do not have access to collection or recycling facilities, your packaging could end up in a landfill or incinerator.
Undoubtedly, your best option would be to contact your packaging supplier. Find out if you can collect your used packaging and send it back to them so that they can manage its recycling responsibly.
You can encourage online customers to do this by having them send their packaging to you via post. You can also have customers return their used packaging to your facilities, similar to Loop which is currently used in the UK.
Introducing a recycling scheme into your business will further highlight its sustainable practices, as well as give your consumers peace of mind about their product choice.
Ultimately, understanding that not all aspects of your coffee packaging can be recycled may encourage you to reevaluate your packaging choices.
MTPak Coffee can help guide you towards more sustainable coffee packaging options that suit your coffee needs. The environmentally friendly range features several different materials, including recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable packing options, as well as water-based inks that are compostable and easy to remove for recycling.