Maximise sustainability in 2023: Why a circular economy is critical for coffee businesses

Amelia Cooper
February 13, 2023
An image of a coffee roaster checking a list in an article about circular economy and the importance of a circular economy in the coffee industry, in an article on Why a circular economy is critical for coffee businesses

Sustainability is a hot topic that many coffee businesses are fighting to promote.

While it is a prized term in the industry, it is also one of the most difficult to pinpoint. Determining if a company is “sustainable” can be a challenge, as there are endless avenues and elements to consider.

With this goal in mind, several sustainability metrics have gained traction over the last decade, with the most popular being the concept of a circular economy.

The concept of a circular economy gives businesses a complete overview and understanding of their waste. Then, once a business can class itself as having a completely circular economy, it is among the sustainability leaders in their industry.

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What is a circular economy & where did the concept originate?

While it is believed the term “circular economy” was first coined in the 1980s and 1990s, it can be a challenge to pinpoint the moment in time at which the term became known.

During the 80s and 90s, the idea of a circular economy concept was emerging in popular discussions and soon became a focus of businesses en masse.

Economists and sustainability leaders believe this is because global economic development at the time heavily depended on resource extraction.

Although the mining, manufacture and disposal of new materials had a huge environmental impact, they were the cornerstone of global economies.

Therefore, the concept of a circular economy became a highly valuable solution. More businesses sought to manage their value chains, reduce costs, and limit costs associated with relying on “virgin” materials.

Essentially, the focus of a circular economy is to minimise the amount of waste that a business is producing.

It is a production and consumption model, which works to extend the lifespan of materials as much as possible. Think of it as an interlinking series of steps:

  1. Inputted energy and material
  1. Manufacture or production
  1. Use
  1. Disposal
  1. Waste or harmful emissions

At step one, a new energy or material enters the system. At step five, the energy or material leaves the system as waste or emissions, which damage the environment.

Therefore, the goal is to minimise the volume of material that makes it to step five. When materials reach the point at which they would normally enter the disposal stage, companies can consider how best to give them another life.

This can be achieved through the following steps:

  • Reusing
  • Recycling
  • Dematerialisation
  • Remanufacturing
  • Refurbishing
  • Increasing use or extending lifespan where possible

Then, once the same material reaches the fourth step for the second time, the process is repeated as many times as possible.

By adopting the best-fit solution for each material that goes through the chain, businesses can target materials at the point at which they would normally go to waste.

“In the context of coffee, this requires all segments of the value chain to understand the environmental impact of their activities,” says Allie, who is also a certified supply chain analyst. “Furthermore, it requires effective strategies to reduce waste.”

An image of a coffee bag being delivered by bicycle to reduce carbon emissions during delivery in an article on why a circular economy is important for coffee businesses.

How have the world’s priorities changed?

Three decades ago, a circular economy was focused on fostering economic development and keeping value chains cost-efficient.

However, driven by absolute necessity, the term is shifting to set sustainability as a priority.

Using plastic production and waste as an example, research shows 8 million pieces of plastic pollution enter the ocean every day. 

Notably, 79% of plastic waste is sent to landfills or ends up in the ocean, with only 9% being recycled. This represents a significant contribution to both climate change and the health of the planet at large.

In just one year, the production and incineration of plastic contribute over 850 million tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. By 2050, this figure could be as high as 2.8 billion tonnes.

“It is critical businesses understand that climate change is no longer an issue that will eventually have to be addressed,” Allie says. “It is happening now, and urgent action must be taken.

“With global temperatures rising and weather patterns becoming increasingly unpredictable, the experience of smallholders growing coffee is changing dramatically,” she adds.

Climate change threatens countless global industries, with the coffee industry being among the most heavily affected. Therefore, minimising waste has become critical.

Today, a circular economy means keeping waste to the bare minimum. It requires businesses to adopt conscientious manufacturing practices, recycle responsibly, invest in pioneering green techniques, and be transparent about their efforts.

More so, the volume and capacity of manufacturing techniques and green technologies have changed profoundly. As a result, the scope for success with a circular economy has reached entirely new heights.

In few industries is a circular economy more important than coffee. If recent estimates are to be taken seriously, the area available to grow high-quality arabica coffee is set to halve by 2050.

Thankfully, a number of coffee businesses are already making concerted efforts to minimise their environmental impact and promote a circular economy:

  • Glen Lyon Coffee Roasters: Endowed with the enviable title of “Scotland’s first carbon neutral coffee roasters”, Glen Lyon takes a multi-pronged approach to reducing its environmental impact. It includes investing in energy-efficient equipment, using an electric Nissan Leaf car for all local deliveries, using wood-burning stoves for their heating, and installing solar panels on the roastery’s roof.
  • Porch Culture Coffee Roasters: Since launching more than a decade ago, the team at Porch Culture has had sustainability at the core of their business. A distinctive part of their approach to a circular economy is the way in which they deliver their coffee: having worked out different routes covering around 20 to 30 miles, they offer coffee deliveries along the route on a bike with a small trailer.
  • Cabra Negra Coffee Roasters: Based in Quito, Cabra Negra was the first coffee roaster in Ecuador to become Certified B Corp. Among a number of sustainable initiatives that directly support local coffee farmers, Cabra Negra uses MTPak Coffee’s compostable coffee bags to package its beans.
  • Coal Town Coffee Roasters: Also a Certified B Corp, Wales-based Coal Town Coffee Roasters achieved an impressive score of 86 points based on several areas, including employment policy, renewable energy, and green coffee sourcing. Among the many ways it continues to contribute to a circular economy is by working with a UK energy provider that pledges to be carbon negative by 2030.
An image of kraft paper coffee bags made from sustainable packaging materials as part of a circular economy  in an article on Why a circular economy is critical for coffee businesses

MTPak Coffee’s commitment to sustainability

“Sustainability is a mindset, not a defined endpoint,” Allie says.

“In the coffee sector, sustainability is the active pursuit of creating and equitably distributing value across the supply chain without contributing to the overshoot of planetary boundaries.”

Since its inception, MTPak Coffee’s founder, Mark Zhou, has been driven by a mission to promote a circular economy and create a more sustainable supply chain, from seed to cup.

“In order to ensure a sustainable coffee industry, we must make a concerted effort to move towards a circular economy,” Mark says. “That includes reducing waste, reusing materials, and recycling components of the coffee production process.”

As such, MTPak Coffee works to support the green initiatives of the entire coffee sector by providing roasters and coffee shop owners with future-proof alternatives to traditional plastics.

Additionally, our commitment to sustainability pushes us to help educate all players within the sector. Our platform allows us to inform the industry about sustainable business and farming practices, environmentally friendly products, and green solutions that are becoming widely available.

“At MTPak Coffee, we believe that supporting sustainable coffee businesses is essential to protecting the environment, preserving coffee-growing communities, and ensuring a bright and prosperous future for coffee,” explains MTPak Coffee’s managing director, Alan Lun.

To this aim, MTPak Coffee is delighted to announce the launch of The Circular Economy Grant.

Designed to support coffee businesses that are committed to reducing their environmental impact, the Circular Economy Grant recognises and rewards small, independent coffee roasters and coffee shops that are using their business as a force for good.

Does your business work directly with producers to ensure fair prices for farmers? Perhaps you compost your coffee grounds and other organic waste.

If your business is involved in any projects that aim to boost sustainability efforts and promote a circular economy within the coffee industry, we would like to hear about it.

A panel of judges will pick a winner who will receive either:

  • $5,000 USD to continue building their business and setting an example for the coffee industry
  • Or $15,000 in credit that can be redeemed on MTPak Coffee packaging and cups

We encourage our readers to apply for the grant and share your story with us.

Read more about The Circular Economy Grant.

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