What are the differences between white & brown kraft paper coffee bags?

Janice Kanniah
May 19, 2022
What are the differences between white & brown kraft paper coffee bags?

Businesses around the world are switching back to paper-based packaging to appeal to eco-conscious customers and stem the tide of plastic pollution.

The specialty coffee sector is no different. One trend that is predicted to dominate coffee packaging in 2022 is imperfect, raw materials characterised by their compostability, off-white backdrops, and earthy textures.

Packaging materials such as kraft paper fit the bill perfectly. As it is sustainable, affordable, and relatively easy to recycle, kraft paper has always been a popular food and beverage packaging material. 

Additionally, kraft paper can be used in its original unbleached form. Or, it can be processed into a bleached white paper to help make branding stand out on the shelf. 

When lined with another material or coated for extra protection, kraft paper packaging can prove to be a beneficial and cost-effective option for many coffee roasters.

Read on to find out which kraft paper option is best suited for your packaging needs. 

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Close up image of rolls of brown kraft paper sitting on top of bleached white jraft paper.

How is kraft paper made?

Before plastic was popularised, businesses used paper bags to package products for centuries. 

The first mass-produced envelope paper bag machine and flat bottomed paper bag machine were invented in the 1800s. These paved the way for the paper bags that are still commonly used today. However, the quality of paper available at the time was low.

As a result, German chemist Carl Dahl created the kraft paper manufacturing process in 1879. Made from natural wood sources, its manufacturing process involves a higher ratio of sulphur compared to conventional paper.

This helps strengthen its fibres and cellulose, making it stronger than recycled paperboard. Additionally, this is what gives the paper its name, as “kraft” means “strong” in German.

During the kraft process, manufacturers heat and pulp wood chips in a pressurised vessel. Adding caustic soda and sodium sulphide created a more flexible pulp than the traditional mechanical pulping process creates on its own.

These additions break down the wood’s lignin, which is what glues its fibres together. This creates brown fibres which are cleaned, bleached, and processed into elastic and tear-resistant brown kraft paper. 

Further bleaching treatments are used to turn some of this into white kraft paper.

Bleached white kraft paper multilayer coffee pouch on wooden counter sitting beside light green coffee mug with wooden cupboards in background.

What’s the difference between white and brown kraft paper?

The main difference between bleached and unbleached kraft paper is appearance.

Unbleached kraft paper does not undergo chemical processing and remains brown in colour. When left in its unbleached form, it is completely compostable, making it an eco-friendly choice for roasters and cafe owners.

However, unbleached kraft paper has limited resistance to oil and moisture. As a result, it usually requires an additional lining or coating in order to be impermeable to these substances. 

To produce uniform white paper suitable for full colour printing, manufacturers reduce the colour tint and purity of paper pulp through bleaching.

Known as delignification bleaching, the process uses oxides such as chlorine and ozone, or bleaching agents like chlorine dioxide and hydrogen peroxide to do this.

A common misconception is that the bleaching process makes the kraft paper less sustainable and may have negative effects on the environment. However, bleached kraft paper can also be compostable, depending on the chemicals used to process it.

Modern paper manufacturers now use oxygen, ozone, or hydrogen peroxide to bleach the paper. This produces fewer toxic and carcinogenic compounds that could damage the environment.

Like brown kraft paper, it will also require a lining to be completely resistant to water and oil.

Caucasian female pouring roasted coffee beans from brown kraft paper bag into coffee grinder hopper with neon sign in background.

Choosing the best type of kraft paper for your needs

Both white and brown kraft paper are suitable for packaging roasted coffee. The choice for roasters boils down to how they want their packaging to be portrayed to customers.

Roasters who have an existing and recognisable brand can opt for white kraft paper. This option will reproduce images, colours, and logos more accurately during print runs. 

Alternatively, roasters who want to portray a rustic, natural feel may find that brown kraft paper is a better choice.

Additionally, roasters who opt for brown kraft paper bags can use custom printed stickers and labels as part of their branding.

Before seeking out either choice of paper packaging, roasters should consider the following factors. 

The paper’s processing & sourcing 

Not all kraft paper comes from a sustainable or ethical source. Roasters can determine if the paper comes from a responsibly managed forest by inquiring whether it is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.

Furthermore, the mill producing the paper should be able to prove that it repurposes the majority of its black liquor – the toxic byproduct of kraft that can pollute water sources.

What inks are used

Many petroleum-based inks contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Using them on kraft paper packaging may result in it damaging the environment as it decomposes. 

Roasters can choose to use sustainable water-based, soy-based, or vegetable-based inks that are low in VOCs, and work particularly well on paper substrates. Furthermore, they are fully biodegradable.

Lining kraft paper bags

To preserve the lifespan of roasted coffee, roasters can include a lining to better protect the beans from heat, moisture, oxygen, and direct sunlight. This is particularly important when packaging large volumes of coffee.  

In many cases, linings are made from traditional plastic or aluminium, which can be challenging to separate and recycled. Therefore, bioplastic linings, such as those made from polylactic acid (PLA) are a more sustainable option, as once they are separated, both materials can be recycled or composted appropriately.

Disposing of kraft paper bags

Any efforts to use eco-friendly coffee packaging material will be in vain if customers aren’t aware of it and dispose of it incorrectly. 

Roasters can use coffee bags to educate consumers about which recycling bin they can use. Alternatively, roasters can encourage customers to return their empty coffee bags to the roastery to ensure it is properly recycled.

Two bleached white kraft paper multilayer coffee bags with typica branding on wooden counter with coffee pot and mug in background.

Packaging manufacturers have made great strides in ensuring that both types of paper have a minimal negative impact on the environment, provided roasters choose a packaging supplier that shares their commitment to sustainability. 

At MTPak Coffee, we can provide roasters with FSC-certified brown and white kraft paper packaging, complete with eco-friendly liners for added barrier protection.

In addition to UV printing methods, we use sustainable, water–based inks to ensure branding stands out to consumers while limiting environmental impact. These are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are recyclable. 

We also offer recyclable BPA-free degassing values and resealable zippers to help preserve the freshness of roasted coffee, from the roastery to the consumer.

For more information on kraft paper coffee packaging, contact our team.

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Janice Kanniah
Janice Kanniah

Janice is freelance writer based in South Africa and has written for MTPak Coffee since 2020. Her interests are in writing about sustainability, the circular economy, and the future of the environment.

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