Does plastic packaging contribute to climate change? 

Pavel Corena
September 9, 2022
Does plastic packaging contribute to climate change?

Fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gasses have been powering economies for over 150 years.

Notably, over 99% of plastic is made from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels. The subsequent burning of these fuels during the production process releases large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. 

If the demand and production of plastic packaging continues to grow, CO2 emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year by 2030. That is the equivalent to the carbon emissions of three hundred, 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants.  

As a result, more consumers are calling on businesses to cut their carbon emissions and help combat the effects of climate change. 

By having a strong focus on sustainability and moving away from plastic packaging, roasters and coffee shops may see improved sales and brand loyalty.

Read on to find out more about how plastic packaging can contribute to climate change.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Sign up
An image of plastic packaging examples in an article on can plastic packaging contribute to climate change

How is plastic packaging made?

Almost all plastic products are made from non-renewable, oil-based substances such as petroleum and natural gas. 

These materials are extracted from the earth through a some-what controversial technique known as fracking

Fracking is a process whereby oil companies drill into the ground to inject liquid into subterranean rocks and boreholes at high pressures. This forces existing fissures open in order for oil or gas to be extracted. 

However, without rigorous safety regulations, fracking may poison groundwater, pollute surface water, damage landscapes, and threaten wildlife. 

Materials such as ethane and propane are extracted, and then treated with heat in a process called “cracking”. This process transforms them into plastic “building blocks” called ethylene and propylene.

These are then combined to create different polymers that make up plastic resin pellets which are shipped to plastic manufacturers. 

The manufacturing and transportation phases of plastic resin are estimated to account for 61% of the total plastic greenhouse gas emissions

These pellets are melted and moulded into usable plastic products, such as bottles, food packaging, and medical devices. An additional 30% of emissions are released when this process takes place.  

A close up image of multilayer coffee packaging in an article on can plastic packaging contribute to climate change

How does plastic packaging contribute to climate change?

Of the 8.3 billion tons of plastics that have been produced since the 1950s, 79% have ended up in landfills or have leaked into the environment. 

Notably, plastic production has increased from 1.5 million metric tons (MT) in 1950 to an astounding 368 million MT in 2019. If this continues, annual plastic production could reach up to 2,000 million MT by 2050.

Single-use plastics, such as food packaging, accounts for 40% of all plastic produced annually. As the name suggests, these plastics are specifically designed to be used once. 

However, they can take hundreds of years to break down. More so, they never tend to break down completely. Instead, single-use plastic packaging degrades and may become microplastics, which continue to pollute the environment. 

This happens to most plastic packaging that ends up in landfills. When plastics are left to degrade in the environment, they emit several greenhouse gases, such as methane and ethylene.

Once released, these gas emissions can be toxic and have adverse effects on the environment and human health. 

Additionally, chemicals from packaging materials, as well as inks and dyes from labels, may leach into the soil and groundwater. These tiny toxic particles may also enter the food chain when they are ingested by animals. 

Traditionally, plastic packaging can be processed and disposed of in three ways: landfill, incinerations, or recycling. 

A total of 12% of plastic waste is incinerated. That said, research shows this disposal method may generate over 850 million tons of greenhouse emissions. By 2050, it is estimated these emissions could rise by 2.8 billion tons

Reusing and recycling plastics can reduce the need to create new plastics. Also, it may help conserve non-renewable fossil fuels and the energy required during production. 

This may help lessen the amount of solid waste entering landfills and incinerators, which reduces the emissions of greenhouse gases. 

As a result, a growing number of brands are investing in sustainable packaging materials which can be recycled, composted, or can biodegrade naturally without leaving behind toxic residues. 

An image of a barista filling a hopper with roasted coffee beans from a multilayer coffee bag in an article on can plastic packaging contribute to climate change

Environmentally friendly coffee packaging alternatives

Plastic pollution is a global concern that affects all industries and sectors, including coffee. 

As global coffee exports amounted to 10.12 million bags in July 2022, it is essential for the industry to find sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging. 

A growing number of roasters and coffee shops are choosing to switch to packaging made from renewable sources, such as kraft or rice paper

When used in their natural form, both papers are effortlessly biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable. 

Additionally, more are investing in bioplastics like polylactic acid (PLA) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE). LDPE packaging has similar characteristics to traditional plastics, but it is fully recyclable and easy to reuse. 

More so, PLA is made from the fermentation of carbohydrates from renewable resources such as maize, cornstarch, and sugarcane. It is toxin-free, and its production involves significantly less energy. 

One study suggests that switching from petroleum-based to corn-based plastics would cut US greenhouse gas emissions by a quarter.

By switching to sustainable energy sources and environmentally friendly packaging, roasters and coffee shops can do their part to combat the effects of climate change and support sustainable practices. 

This is particularly essential to appealing to a growing number of eco-consious consumers. Recent studies show 66% of consumers say they are happy to pay more for sustainable alternatives. More significantly, 84% of global consumers state a poor environmental track record may cause them to stop buying from a company.

An image of multilayer coffee packaging in an article on can plastic packaging contribute to climate change

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options, from side gusset bags to flat-bottom pouches

Roasters can choose from renewable materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining, all of which minimise waste and contribute to a circular economy.

More so, we give our roasters complete control over the design process by allowing them to build their own coffee bags

Our design team is available to help you create the ideal coffee packaging. Plus, we are able to custom-print coffee bags using innovative digitally printing technology, with a quick turnaround time of 40-hours and 24-hour shipping time. 

MTPak Coffee also offers low minimum order quantities (MOQs) to micro-roasters who are looking to remain agile while showcasing brand identity and a commitment to the environment.

The additions to our coffee bags, such as degassing valves and resealable zippers are fully recyclable, as are our water-based inks, which are low in volatile organic compounds. This means they are easy to remove for recycling or composting.

For more information on custom-printed compostable coffee packaging, contact our team

MTPak recommends