How can roasters reduce their organic waste?

Antony Papandreou
September 2, 2022

The consumption of coffee has seen a steady increase, breaking into new markers and evolving to attract new audiences.

This increased demand has seen many positive affects on the industry, validating investments that have led to advancements in how coffee is grown, graded, processed, and roasted. These developments have also resulted in some genuinely remarkable flavours. 

This positive impact extends beyond the flavours in the final cup. It offers employment opportunities and generates a substantial amount of taxable revenue worldwide. 

That said, coffee consumption is predicted to double by 2050, and that growth is likely to come with increased organic waste.

Sustainability has become essential within the specialty coffee industry, with many roasters and coffee shops striving to contribute to a circular economy. Additionally, a growing number of roasters are looking at ways to reduce their organic waste or transform it into a valuable resource.

Read on to find out the most effective ways coffee roasters can reduce their organic waste. 

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An image of green coffee beans in burlap sacks waiting for export in an article on how roasters reduce their organic waste.

What organic waste do roasters create?

In addition to roasting coffee, the term roasters often refers to the broader industry and encapsulates the import, production, and distribution of coffee beans.

In essence, roasteries are businesses and have many things to consider regarding how they allocate their resources. For instance, roasters have employees to pay, families to feed, and lives to live.

However, if progress is to be made in reducing the cumulative negative aspects of growth, damage to the environment is a factor that cannot be ignored. 

The everyday practices of a roastery can accumulate a lot of unnecessary waste if not kept in check. For example, many use single-use disposable packaging for roast samples or use paper scoring sheets during cupping sessions.

Additionally, the roastery may use takeaway cups as spittoons, or over-order on coffee bags and packaging stickers.

 Furthermore, if the packaging is not environmentally friendly, it can generate significant amounts of unnecessary waste. 

Generally, this kind of waste is easy to avoid, and should be at all costs. It is unlikely to benefit the business and contribute to the carbon footprint for which the coffee industry is accountable.

More so, the packaging used to ship green beans from origin countries, as well as grainpro bags, and burlap sacks must be considered.

While the material of a grainpro bag makes it highly effective at keeping coffee fresh, it can be difficult to recycle in commercial facilities. This is due to the fact the bags must be hermetically sealed to preserve the coffees freshness. 

Often, they will have to be collected by the roaster and returned to the supplier in order to be re-used as part of a circular economy.

An image of chaff being released during the coffee roasting process in an article on how roasters reduce their organic waste

How does organic coffee waste affect the environment? 

While inorganic waste is a significant problem across the industry, organic coffee waste is a less obvious contributor to the growing issue. 

Typically, organic coffee waste refers to pulp, chaff, and used coffee grounds. 

Coffee pulp, also known as the husk, is the discarded fruit of the coffee cherry. The seed is removed from the cherry before further processing, and the pulp is often discarded. 

This pulp represents between 40% to 50% of the total weight of the cherry. Therefore, for every kilogram (pound) of processed coffee, there is approximately a kilogram (pound) of pulp waste that accompanies it. 

Cherries left to decompose can result in an unpleasant odour, and may attract insects and bacteria. Additionally, the coffee pulp could pollute any water nearby, causing eutrophication in surrounding rivers and lakes.

Eutrophication is when the water environment becomes overloaded with nutrients, increasing the plant and algae growth to estuaries and coastal water. This growth may lead to harmful algal blooms, dead zones, and may even kill fish in the area.

Not to mention, the pulp still contains traces of caffeine, chlorogenic acid and tannins, which can be harmful to the soil. 

Coffee chaff refers to the skin of the coffee bean. During a roast, the bean sheds this ‘silver skin’, where it collects in a chaff bin attached to the roaster. This should be emptied at regular intervals to avoid the risk of fire. 

When left in landfills, chaff decomposes and emits methane: a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) at trapping heat, which is one of the leading causes of global warming.

To say nothing of used coffee grinds. The grinds used by consumers up to six months ago are likely still sitting in landfill, emitting methane into the atmosphere.

That said, other recycling practices do exist, such as incineration and anaerobic digestion. This refers to the process where bacteria break down organic matter in the absence of oxygen.

However, neither incineration nor anaerobic digestion are efficient solutions that maximise the potential of spent coffee grounds.

A close up image of used coffee grounds or spent coffee grounds in an article on how roasters reduce their organic waste

How can roasters reduce their organic waste?

When it comes to solid, inorganic waste, such as single-use items and packaging, roasters understand the importance of recycling and investing in sustainable materials. 

While a solution to inorganic coffee waste may not be as linear, extensive research is being done in the area. 

For instance, coffee pulp is being tested for a broad application of uses, from animal feed, to soil fertiliser, and food supplements. 

Additionally, it may prove useful in increasing dietary fibre and producing biodegradable packaging, an eco-friendly alternative to plastic.

Although this sits outside the control of the roaster, due diligence when purchasing green beans can go a long way. For example, roasters can check whether suitable profits are returned to the farmer and whether producers engage in sustainable farming practices.

Coffee chaff is slightly less versatile in its potential uses, but remains an excellent agricultural product which can help enrich soil with nitrogen.

Roasters can turn their coffee chaff from a potentially harmful byproduct into an efficient solution by offering it to customers for their garden compost. Or, roasters can choose to work directly with garden centres or organic farms. 

This was the route taken by South African coffeehouse, Bootlegger Coffee, which turns its waste into compost, using an eco-friendly method for the management of food waste through off-site composting.

Regarding coffee grinds, some exciting developments are underway that may drastically reduce the industry’s negative environmental impact. For instance, repurposing them into bioplastics, and other bioproducts, may help reduce the use of plastic. 

More so, the residual oils from coffee grinds may be an effective replacement for palm oil, a product that is used heavily in food and cosmetics.

To help reduce the amount of organic waste, coffee roasters can begin separating their used grounds to prevent cross contamination. Once this practice has been established, a roaster’s options multiply. 

Whether it is used in agricultural practices, repurposed as briquettes for fires or barbecues, or made available to customers as compost, separating the coffee is the first step.

An image of a woman holding multilayer sustainable coffee bag made from bleached kraft paper in an article on how roasters reduce their organic waste

When it comes to instigating sustainable practices, there is no zero-effort option; it will require a collective commitment.

A fast and effective way for roasters and coffee shops to reduce the carbon footprint is to invest in sustainable coffee packaging.

At MTPak Coffee, our range of coffee packaging is 100% recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable and made from sustainable materials such as kraft and rice paper, as well as LDPE and PLA-lined bags.

Furthermore, we can use digital printing to customise coffee bags to reflect your brand and sustainability efforts.

We have a 40-hour turnaround and 24-hour shipping time, allowing us to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material.

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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