Adhesives in coffee packaging: are they eco-friendly?

Nuvin Sithanen
November 14, 2022
Adhesives in coffee packaging: are they eco-friendly?

As a roaster or coffee shop owner, how often have you considered the eco-friendliness of the adhesives used in your packaging or takeaway cups?

With a stronger emphasis being placed on sustainability within the coffee industry, every piece of packaging is being put under a microscope.

Some more obvious parts of coffee packaging can be defined as compostable, biodegradable, recyclable, or sustainable, such as the materials and accessories such as degassing valves or resealable zippers.

However, few have investigated the adhesives in coffee packaging, and whether they are both sustainable and eco-friendly.

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An image of a coffee roaster sealing a coffee bag of roast coffee in an article on adhesives used in coffee packaging and whether it is eco-friendly or sustainable.

What are adhesives and how do they work?

Essentially, an adhesive is a substance that is capable of holding materials together by surface attachment.

How the adhesive works and forms a bond will depend on what type of packaging material is used, as well as what type of adhesive.

The scientific definition for an adhesive refers to a non-metallic substance which is able to join materials by surface bonding with a bond that has the required internal strength. The adhesive forms a bond between two points that are being joined.

Adhesives are a fundamental component of the packaging industry, as they play an essential role in the protection and transportation of products.

The most common adhesive types can be subdivided into three primary groups: hot melts, waterborne or water-based, and solvent-based.

The most common type of hot melt adhesive is used in glue guns. Hot melt adhesives are applied by the process of extrusion, rolling, or spraying.

This form of adhesive is an ideal match for porous and permeable substrates due to its high melt viscosity.

Furthermore, hot melt adhesives are capable of bonding materials such as rubber, ceramic, metal, plastic, glass and wood.

Hot melt adhesives often attach to surfaces by drying – the substrate adheres to the surface after the solvent has dried and the adhesive has solidified.

Waterborne or water-based adhesives are often sold in a powder or solid form, which then needs to be mixed with water to make it applicable to the surfaces being bonded. The bond forms when the water evaporates or is absorbed by the substrate.

These adhesives are often created from natural polymers sourced from vegetables in the form of dextrins and starches, proteins in the form of soybean or casein, and animals in the form of bones and collagen.

Solvent-based adhesives are most suitable for the food and beverage packaging industry as they work with a wide range of substrates and are highly resistant to external factors.

They are usually in a liquid form which creates the bond once it dries. Solvent-based adhesives are popular due to their ease of use and simple application.

The way in which adhesives form bonds onto substrates can differ and can also be broken down.

Pressure-sensitive refers to a bond that is formed when immense pressure is applied and molecular interactions form. This type of adhesive is commonly used on Band-Aid plasters or post-it notes.

Last, reactive adhesives are when a chemical reaction occurs and results in the formation of a bond.

An image of several multilayer LDPE coffee bags with custom-printed labels in an article on adhesives used in coffee packaging and whether it is eco-friendly or sustainable.

Are the adhesives used on coffee bags & takeaway cups eco-friendly?

One of the most common adhesives used on coffee packaging and takeaway coffee cups is hot melts.

This is mainly due to its strong bonding properties and affordability, as well as the fact it has a quick set time and, once solidified, is resistant to high temperatures.

That said, if adhesives are not disposed of properly, they may have negative effects on the environment and human health.

For instance, some adhesives, such as glue, may contain solvents that affect a person’s health if they are inhaled. This may lead to respiratory system diseases and may even affect brain function.

Additionally, some solvents may be difficult to eliminate and often require special recycling processes. If the waste from these processes is not dealt with effectively, it may leak into bodies of water, endangering the local wildlife and contaminating the surrounding soil.

Therefore, roasters and coffee shops should communicate the disposal procedure to their customers if their coffee cups or bags have particular types of adhesives.

This can be done by custom-printing instructions directly on the bags or cups, or implementing a QR code that directs customers to the company website.

Those who are unsure of the recyclability of their packaging adhesives can offer a collection service. Customers can return empty takeaway cups and coffee bags to the roaster or café, where the owners can ensure they are taken to the correct waste facilities.

This route can be highly beneficial, as it offers consumers an easy solution to their coffee packaging waste and encourages them to return to the establishment for repeat purchases.

An image of a compostable takeaway coffee cup made with eco-friendly adhesives in an article on adhesives used in coffee packaging and whether it is eco-friendly or sustainable.

Eco-friendly adhesive alternatives for the coffee industry

The increased focus on sustainability has seen a number of eco-friendly adhesives enter the packaging industry. 

Furthermore, these adhesives may have significant applications in the coffee industry. For example, biodegradable adhesives can be broken down by living organisms and are perfectly suited for biodegradable coffee bags or takeaway cups.

During this degradation process, they lead to the production of carbon dioxide, water and other natural gases depending on the environmental conditions.

These adhesives are manufactured from renewable materials, such as starches like corn, wheat, and potato.

Compostable adhesives are similar to biodegradable ones, but require help breaking down. If a compostable adhesive is left in a landfill, it may not break down completely. 

However, if it is added to compost, the material breaks down completely and may even help improve the soil by proving additional nutrients in the process.

Renewable adhesives are revised from materials such as plants and beeswax. In addition to a decreased carbon footprint, they further enhance overall sustainability content for many applications, including paper lamination, case and carton sealing, and bottle labelling. 

An image of a roaster filling a custom-print red multilayer LDPE coffee bag with roast coffee in an article on adhesives used in coffee packaging and whether it is eco-friendly or sustainable.

Roasters and coffee shops can take a number of routes when making their business more environmentally friendly. 

Investing in eco-friendly adhesives alongside sustainable coffee packaging and takeaway cups is one of the most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint. 

At MTPak Coffee, 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 coffee packaging. Plus, we are able to custom-print coffee bags using innovative digital 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.

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

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