How can coffee shops reduce single-use plastics?

Pavel Corena
October 24, 2022
how can coffee shops reduce single-use plastics

In recent years, both coffee production and consumption levels have increased dramatically. 

According to a National Coffee Data Trends report, coffee consumption levels reached a two-decade high in 2022, while coffee exports amounted to 9.97 million bags in May of 2021. 

Naturally, growth this significant will have an impact on the environment. As the popularity of takeaway coffee continues to grow, so will the demand for single-use items such as disposable cups, coffee cup sleeves, and stirrers. 

Therefore, roasters and coffee shop owners will have to reevaluate their single-use plastics and determine how to lessen their environmental impact. 

By implementing different sustainable strategies, it is possible to reduce the number of single-use plastics needed without it impacting the customer. 

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An image of a barista serving coffee in compostable takeaway coffee cups in an article on how coffee shops can reduce single-use plastics

The coffee industry & single-use plastics

For decades, society has relied on the convenience offered by single-use plastics, with little regard as to how they may impact the environment.

These plastics are specifically designed to be used for a short period of time before being thrown away. Their convenience, affordability, and ease of use are the main reasons they have become so popular among manufacturers. 

However, the production and consistent use of single-use plastics are some of the key drivers behind global warming, which has worsened the effects of climate change

Notably, the production of plastic is notoriously unsustainable, as it releases between 1.7kg and 3.5kg of CO2, depending on the type of plastic. In essence, for every kilogram of fossil-based plastic produced, between 1.7kg and 3.5kgs of CO2 is released. 

Additionally, the way plastic is disposed of is adding to the growing plastic waste crisis. The main ways to dispose of traditional petroleum-based plastic are through landfill, incineration, or recycling. 

Incineration and landfill are the most common methods of disposal, as it is cost-effective and easily accessible to most businesses. However, both are more likely to leach toxic chemicals and residue into the surrounding environment. 

On the other hand, recycling can be expensive, as it often requires a complex collection scheme on the side of the roaster to ensure it is properly processed. 

Disposable coffee cups make up a large percentage of all single-use plastic waste. This is because many are made from paper lined with plastic to make them waterproof. 

This plastic lining cannot be removed by most recycling facilities, and, once used, the paper part of the cup is usually contaminated by the cup’s contents. 

An image of a zero single-use plastic coffee shop and coffee roastery in an article on how coffee shops can reduce their use of single-use plastic items

How is the coffee industry adapting to the single-use plastic waste crisis?

In 2019, 170 countries pledged to “significantly reduce” the use of plastics by 2030 in order to tackle the plastic waste crisis. 

Some countries have created incentives for businesses in different sectors to create sustainable schemes. 

More so, some governments have implemented taxes on single-use items, or have begun phasing them out altogether. 

It is important to note that environmental sustainability has also become a primary focus for consumers. Research done by Trade Fair, Live Fair found 88% of people believe brands should take action to protect the environment. 

A failure to move away from single-use plastics could prompt customers to look elsewhere for their coffee, placing more sustainable brands at a significant advantage. 

As a result, more specialty coffee roasters have invested in sustainable alternatives to package their beans, using materials such as kraft or rice paper coffee bags, or those made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and polylactic acid (PLA). 

LDPE is a thermoplastic characterised by its properties as a thin, lightweight, and flexible material that can withstand temperatures of up to 80°C (176°F). It is also fully recyclable by most local authorities.

Similarly, PLA offers the same qualities as traditional plastics, with the advantage of being made from renewable and compostable resources. For coffee packaging, it offers excellent stability and protection, providing an effective barrier against moisture, light, and oxygen.

Both are made using environmentally friendly manufacturing methods and can be customised using minimal waste digital printing technology or sustainable, water-based inks.

An image of a compostable takeaway coffee cup with a kraft paper cup sleeve and bamboo stirrer in an article on how coffee shops can reduce single-use plastics

Sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic items

In addition to investing in sustainable coffee packaging, roasters can implement a number of strategies to reduce single-use items. 

For example, some coffee shops have switched from plastic stirrers to those made from renewable sources, such as bamboo. Also, some have phased out plastic straws and replaced them with waxed paper alternatives. 

Furthermore, to avoid double-cupping, most businesses are turning to double-walled cups to serve takeaway coffee and adding custom-printed cup sleeves to ensure it is comfortable for consumers to hold. 

Another way roasters can reduce the consumption of single-use items is to implement a cup or coffee bag return scheme

Cup and packaging return schemes can help dramatically reduce packaging and waste costs for roasters. More so, they may help staff develop a long-term relationship with consumers as they have to come back to contribute to the scheme. 

Packaging collection schemes are an affordable and convenient way to ensure packaging ends up being properly collected and recycled.

A recent survey revealed 61% of customers consciously limited their purchases of single-use plastic in 2021.

For roasters and coffee shop owners, it is vital to keep up with customer expectations and consider the environmental impact of the business. 

Making the switch to compostable coffee bags and PLA packaging can be the first step.

An image of a barista filling a hopper with roast coffee from a kraft paper coffee bag in an article on how coffee shops can reduce single-use plastics

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable packaging solutions that help roasters and coffee shops move away from non-recyclable single-use plastics. 

We offer a range of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options made 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 packaging or cups. Plus, we are able to custom-print using innovative digital printing technology, with a quick turnaround time of 40-hour shipping time.

In addition to being strong, waterproof, lightweight, and 100% compostable, our cups can be custom-printed to your specifications using digital printing or sustainable water-based inks that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOC) and highly resistant to abrasion, water, and heat.

Our range of cups is available in five different sizes: 4oz, 8oz, 12oz, 16oz, and 24oz.

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.

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

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