Coffee packaging: how important is eco-friendly printing?

Josephine Walbank
May 24, 2022
Coffee packaging: how important is eco-friendly printing?

When it comes to printing, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all. 

Each specialty roaster has their own set of needs, which will determine the best method for their custom printed coffee bags. 

That being said, the entire coffee industry is adopting more eco-friendly practices and sustainable packaging materials. It is only logical that this would extend to packaging printing methods. 

A variety of common printing methods can be classified as eco-friendly, such as flexography, UV printing, and rotogravure. However, the introduction of sustainable digital printing technologies has revolutionised package printing.

Compared to conventional printing, digital eco-friendly printing methods consume less energy and can print on both biodegradable and recyclable materials.

Read on to find out more about eco-friendly digitial printing and whether it is the best choice for your packaging. 

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Strips of pantone colour samples with six digit colour codes in a fan shape on purple and pink gradient background.

How does eco-friendly printing differ from regular printing techniques?

One of the fundamental ways eco-friendly digital printing differs from regular printing techniques is the equipment – they tend to use less energy than conventional models. 

For example, UV printing does not require mercury lamps to dry wet ink, which means it uses less electricity. When multiplied over hundreds of thousands of units, this represents significant energy conservation. 

Second, commercial printers typically use printing plates that are made of long metal sheets. These sheets are engraved using laser technology so they feature the required design. They are then loaded with ink and printed onto packaging.

One drawback to this is that once the order has been printed, the sheets can not be reused: they either have to be discarded or recycled.

Alternatively, flexography printing methods use reusable printing plates. This saves a considerable amount of waste and energy, which would otherwise be required to process and print new sheets.

In the case of rotogravure printing, the cylindrical printing plates used are exceptionally durable. Notably, a single cylinder can be used over 20 million times before a replacement is needed. 

For roasters who rarely change the design of their coffee packaging, rotogravure printing can be a highly sustainable investment. 

Concept image of the HP Indigo 25K Digital press eco-friendly printer for coffee packaging.

Digital eco-friendly printing on sustainable materials

Recently, eco-friendly printers have been adapted to digital printing on sustainable materials, including biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable substrates. This is an amazing opportunity for more roasters to invest in custom printed coffee bags.

As packaging manufacturers invest large sums into developing new sustainable materials, choosing a printer that works with them can be a rewarding investment. 

That said, in terms of quality, some criticise the lack of flexibility that flexographic and UV printing provides for roasters. These two methods work better with simple shapes and block colours. 

Alternatively, digital printing offers more versatility as it does not require expensive custom-built plates to print new designs. 

For example, MTPak Coffee recently invested in green printing technology by purchasing the HP Indigo 25K Digital press. According to HP, the technology can cut the environmental impact by as much as 80% compared to flexographic and rotogravure printing techniques.

It is important to note that both flexographic and rotogravure printing techniques are already more sustainable than conventional commercial printing. 

The HP Indigo 25K Digital press provides businesses with full flexibility regarding the variety and complexity of the designs they want featured. Intricate details, seasonal varieties, and top-quality can be used without incurring extra costs or hindering a businesses sustainability. 

Eco-friendly digital printers can achieve high-quality standards on a wide variety of materials – including biodegradable and recyclable packaging materials. 

Furthermore, these printers do not require plates, which in turn, eliminates this waste product altogether. 

It is important to note that digital printing equipment is an expensive investment, so roasters must consider how often their packaging designs change, and whether it is worth it.

Male African-American roaster holding up two brown kraft paper coffee bags next to espresso machine topped with white paper takeaway cups in coffee shop.

Why should coffee roasters care about eco-friendly printing?

A growing number of consumers are demanding that brands take accountability for their environmental impact. 

Customers tend to prioritise brands that share a similar ethos, and may even boycott those that are unwilling to become more sustainable. A 2021 survey revealed 28% of consumers have stopped buying certain products over ethical or environmental concerns. 

Additionally, those surveyed were asked to identify the environmentally sustainable or ethical practices they value most. Three practices they wished to see from more brands were waste reduction, reducing their carbon footprint, and producing sustainable packaging. 

A number of studies show consumers are becoming increasingly conscientious about the brands they choose to support. 

As packaging is the first thing consumers see from a brand, it is an immediate indicator of how sustainable the business is. If consumers do not see the commitment they hope for, a significant number may withdraw their support.

Beyond the financial implications of not becoming more eco-friendly, specialty coffee roasters also risk having to rethink their way of operating. 

Climate change, and rising global temperatures, has already made growing coffee more difficult

Research by IBISWorld revealed the global price of coffee rose by 21.6% in one year – a direct result of climate change. 

A prime example of the devastating impact of climate change is the recent frost that decimated Brazil’s coffee crops. The dramatic drop in temperature eliminated a third of the country’s arabica crop

Increased extreme weather conditions could rapidly reduce coffee production, which may bring major implications for all coffee professionals. 

However, by partnering with packaging providers that use eco-friendly printing technology, roasters and cafe owners can help lower carbon emissions across the supply chain. This may not only help bolster the industry at a critical time, but enable roasters to achieve a lower carbon footprint for their business.

White multilayer kraft paper coffee bag with black leaf illustrations on cover and blue label on white background.

Sustainable practices have become a priority for many businesses, as they realise they may lose paying customers if eco-friendly procedures are not implemented correctly.

Recent studies reveal 66% of consumers are willing to pay a higher price for sustainable product alternatives. 

This shows that even if sustainable changes come with additional costs, they are likely to be offset by increased customer loyalty. 

Investing in eco-friendly printing technology could help the specialty coffee industry at large. Furthermore, it can help boost consumer loyalty while ensuring your brand reputation is one of ethics and conscientiousness. Additionally, roasters who have custom printed coffee bags may also benefit from more brand recognition and repeat sales.

At MTPak Coffee, our investment in the HP Indigo 25K Digital Press means we have the ability to meet rapidly evolving roaster needs across a wide range of sustainable coffee packaging types, including compostable and recyclable bags.

We can help roasters to continue providing customers with an environmentally friendly product, without compromising on materials or designs.

Additionally, it also opens the door to fully customised coffee packaging for micro roasters and those offering limited edition coffee. 

For more information on eco-friendly digital printing for coffee packaging, contact our team

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