The latest trends in labelling sustainability

Antony Papandreou
November 30, 2022
he latest trends in labelling sustainability

When it is everyone’s problem, it is no one’s responsibility: a mindset that may be benign in most cases but is unfeasible when applied to recycling.

While compared to the levels of industrial waste created, the amount of domestic waste produced is fairly minimal. However, by 2050, worldwide municipal solid waste is predicted to have increased by 70% to 3.4 billion metric tons.

It is clear the growing plastic waste crisis is everyone’s problem and everyone’s responsibility. Changing consumer attitudes on sustainability and recycling can positively impact purchasing habits. 

This, in turn, can help create a demand for brands that are working toward more sustainable practices.

Notably, committing to sustainability requires scrutiny of all potential contributors and touchpoints. For those in the specialty sector, this includes not only coffee packaging but also inks, glues, and laminates frequently used in labelling. 

Read on to find out the latest trends in labelling sustainability across the coffee industry. 

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An image of a coffee roaster labelling coffee bags made of kraft paper in an article about trends in labelling sustainability

Why should roasters consider the sustainability of packaging labels?

Coffee roasters are suppliers of an arguably essential product. 

Therefore, it is a roaster’s responsibility to provide customers with a viable way to enjoy coffee without making them accomplices in the plastic waste crisis. 

Notably, most of coffee’s carbon footprint happens before it reaches the roaster, which is out of their control.

However, disposable packaging is a significant contributor to plastic waste and is a direct result of the roaster’s decisions.

Roasters must look at sustainability collectively. While using eco-friendly coffee packaging is commendable, roasters must also ensure the labels and adhesives are compatible.

In short, if the packaging is recyclable or compostable, the label should be too. To do otherwise requires customers to remove labels before recycling their empty coffee bags – an act which roasters have no control over. 

Planning for end-of-life solutions for coffee bags is just as crucial as ensuring eco-friendly production. 

For example, a recyclable bag with a compostable label will likely find itself in a landfill. Similarly, a compostable bag with a recyclable label would contaminate the compost with plastics or petroleum-based adhesives. 

In addition, mixing the materials can damage the recycling or composting equipment and contaminate the batch.

Recycling plastics, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), involve shredding the material into small pieces before dropping it in an acidic bath. The PET is denser than water and sinks to the bottom. 

For the ink, adhesive, and film of the label to be appropriate for the process, they need to be less dense than water, so they float. Additionally, the adhesive must be able to wash off. 

Paper labels present an issue to the process, as the paper contaminates the wash water and can stick to the flake, resulting in reduced quality. 

Certain adhesives and films, as well as dense inks, or those that bleed colour may discolour the recycled plastic – which may cause the contaminated batch being discarded. 

Another prominent problem with non-sustainable inks and adhesives is the volatile organic compounds or VOCs.

An image of a coffee roaster placing a label on a coffee subscription box in an article about trends in labelling sustainability

The latest trends in labelling sustainability

A volatile organic compound (VOC) contains one or more carbon atoms. 

It has a high vapour pressure that causes it to evaporate rapidly into the atmosphere. When exposed to sunlight, VOCs react with nitrogen oxide to form fine particles that create ground-level ozone: a potential health hazard and contributor to urban smog.

Alternatives to inks that emit large quantities of VOCs include flexographic inks, which are water-based with extremely low VOCs.

Flexographic inks have replaced traditional solvent-based inks on many substrates and end-use applications. 

Printers can further reduce the VOCs by using solvent recovery systems.

Solvent-based gravure inks for packaging cartons and flexible films are similar to flexographic inks in their content and composition.

Again, water-based gravure inks have successfully replaced high VOC-containing solvent-based inks in many general folding carton applications. 

In the US, water-based inks are used wherever possible on flexible films and publication printing in order to reduce VOC emissions.

An image of a hessian coffee bag with a kraft paper label in an article on trends in labelling sustainability

Ultraviolet (UV) and electric beam (EB) inks and coatings dry through the use of energy in order to cure them quickly.  

These printing inks contain essentially nonvolatile components and emit minimal VOCs during printing and curing.

When it comes to adhesives, different types are often used in specific situations. 

For example, drying adhesives adhere to substrates after the solvent dries or evaporates. After which the adhesive hardens. 

Pressure-sensitive adhesives trigger under pressure, such as Post-It notes or scotch tape. When the adhesive is pressed into the substrate, molecular interactions firm and strengthen the bond.

Hot melt adhesives are a type of thermoplastic that is liquid when heated but solidifies when cooled. Once hardened, the adhesive forms a strong bond between various materials, like glue guns. 

Reactive adhesives react with a substance, creating a bond.

The most common example is a water-activated adhesive, such as a moistened envelope and then sealed. Water activates the adhesive, which is typically made with potatoes or corn starch, and allows it to stick to the paper.

Alternatively, adhesives can also be characterised by the raw materials used. 

Some are made from renewable resources, including starches, such as corn, potatoes, sugarcane, and wheat, 

Other are made from natural resins, such as gum arabic. Additionally, they can be made using casein, which is a milk protein, and other animal sources such as beeswax, shellac, and gelatine. 

Some are made from natural but non-renewable resources, such as amber, silica, and sulphur minerals.

Synthetic adhesives are derived from human-made polymers, including thermoplastics, thermosets, and elastomers.

While more costly than natural adhesives, these types offer incredible bond strengths and durability and provide more options for customisation.

An image of a coffee roaster packaging coffee in PLA lined kraft paper coffee bags in an article about trends in labelling sustainability

What to consider when updating labels on coffee packaging

When selecting stickers, a roaster has a lot to consider.

Most importantly, roasters must consider the end-of-life solution for that material to know whether it is suitable for use. 

For instance, some roasters may choose to use bioplastics over low-density polyethylene (LDPE), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), or PET.

While bioplastics are compostable, they can be more difficult to recycle.

Similarly, with stickers, if the end-of-life solution for the product is recycling instead of composting, LDPE is more appropriate than bio-plastic. 

To take ownership of the waste crisis, roasters must consider the life cycle of each material used in their coffee packaging. This decision can also be informed by how well the product fits with the brand of the roastery. 

For example, kraft paper coffee bags and bioplastics may be a better solution for rural areas that are more likely to compost. Whereas inner-city roasters will likely have more dependable recycling facilities.

An image of a white LDPE coffee bag with a PLA lining with a label stuck on in an article about trends in labelling sustainability

Whichever you decide is best suited to your business and your brand, it is essential to communicate this to the consumer. 

Take advantage of MTPak Coffee’s low minimum order quantities (MOQs) customisation options to ensure your customers know how to dispose of the packaging properly and demonstrate your commitment to sustainability.

We offer a range of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options that can be customised to reflect the unique name of your coffees.

Additionally, our coffee bag labels are fully compostable and easy to remove for recycling, should the packaging and its labels need to be recycled separately. 

Roasters can choose from renewable materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining.

Using innovative digital printing technology, we can fully customise your coffee packaging to your specifications, reflecting your brand and commitment to sustainability.

For more information on sustainable custom printed coffee bags with eco-friendly labels, contact our team.

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