The rise of biodegradable coffee packaging in the UAE

Antony Papandreou
February 3, 2023
An image of a coffee roaster packaging roast coffee into a biodegradable coffee bag made from bioplastics like PLA, PLA coffee bags, in an article about the rise of biodegradable coffee packaging in the UAE

Without fertile terrain and a suitable climate, society has often depended on technology to help make land habitable.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the most prominent examples of this in modern times. Despite the improbability of a bustling metropolis in the middle of the desert, citizens of the UAE have found a way to thrive.

Home to 10.8 million people, the UAE and surrounding countries are front and center on the world stage. From international exhibitions and sporting events to missions to Mars and Space Tourism, the last 50 years have seen these deserts transform into an oasis.

One industry that certainly made itself at home is specialty coffee. Already an established part of the local culture, the UAE coffee scene has experienced explosive growth, with an average of 6 million cups consumed daily.

Notably, the estimated yearly coffee consumption is 3.5kg per person, which equates to approximately $630 million spent on coffee each year: a demand that has been met with an emphatic response.

As demand increases, it becomes necessary to consider what can be done to address the critical factor of sustainability.

Therefore, a number of roasters in the UAE have invested in biodegradable coffee bags to mitigate the environmental impact of their packaging.

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Taking the carbon footprint of coffee into consideration

While the architects of the UAE deserve congratulations, overcoming the ecological obstacles has come at a cost.

Currently, the carbon footprint of UAE residents is among the highest in the world. The average carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita are around 4.79 tons, while reports indicate UAE residents generate close to 23.37 tons.

Important to note is many factors contribute to this report, such as location, climate, and the simple matter of choice.

For instance, the lack of fresh water in the region necessitates desalination of water, and it would be implausible to operate through the summer heat without using air conditioning.

That said, there is more residents can do to reduce their carbon footprint. Areas where the UAE scores particularly high in CO2 emissions are food waste and recycling.

Reports show current statistics for food waste in the UAE average at around 2.7 kg per day per person. However, for a country that imports much of its fresh produce, this is an understandable problem to have.

While reports indicate the majority of this waste is domestic, local chefs are rallying to bring awareness to the issues. For example, Chef Carlos De Garza’s restaurant, Teible, minimises waste by embracing farm-to-table concepts, seasonality, and sustainability.

Another example is The Waste Lab, which collects used coffee grinds and other food waste to create healthy compost. This is then used to enrich the soil and improve local farming. 

More so, a recent Government initiative aims to half the food waste by 2030

An image of a multilayer PLA coffee bag, biodegradable coffee packaging in an article about the rise of biodegradable coffee packaging in the UAE

Could recyclable packaging be the answer?

Authorities in the UAE have provided recycling facilities in each Emirate, as well as convenient drop-off zones throughout the cities. 

However, less than 20% of waste is recycled – something local coffee roasters may do well to note. Along with the explosive growth of cafes comes a proportionate supply of roasted and packaged coffee. 

As the local recycling culture is still in its infancy, local businesses should do what they can to raise awareness and minimise any negative impact. Coffee roasters, for instance, will need to consider the entire life cycle of their packaging.

In essence, sustainable packaging materials should achieve three main objectives. First, the packaging should not leak any harmful elements into the environment. 

Second, the packaging should increase the recyclability and use of recycled content, and third, it should reduce the carbon footprint of the packaging. 

The majority of packaging rarely achieves all three, so it becomes the prerogative of the roaster to choose an option that is best suited to their situation.

As the likelihood of coffee packaging being recycled in the UAE is low, roasters should invest in bags made from renewable materials instead. This option minimises the need to extract additional virgin fossil fuels from the earth.

For coffee packaging to fulfil its purpose, it has to perform multiple functions. First, it must create a barrier for light, moisture, and oxygen. 

Second, the material needs to be strong enough to avoid punctures or tears while being transported. 

Third, the packaging needs to be heat sealable, rigid enough to stand up on a display shelf, and look attractive. 

Although adding biodegradability to this list reduces the options, developments in bioplastics have provided an affordable and convenient solution.

The term ‘bioplastic’ covers a broad spectrum of materials. It can refer to materials that are at least partially made from natural and non-fossil components and are biodegradable, such as polylactic acid (PLA).

Unlike conventional plastics, PLA is made using renewable, non-toxic materials such as sugarcane or corn. The plants are broken down into starch or sugar, protein, and fibre. Then, they are fermented to produce lactic acid, which is turned into polylactic acid. 

An image of a coffee roaster packing roast coffee into a biodegradable coffee bag made from PLA, PLA coffee bag, in an article about the rise of biodegradable coffee packaging in the UAE

Where biodegradable coffee packaging comes in

It is important to note that while the UAE has yet to establish its “green credentials,” many coffee businesses are leading the way regarding sustainability. 

For example, several coffee companies that produce coffee capsules are committed to using biodegradable materials. These include prominent players in the local industry, such as Tres Maria’s, Base Brews, and Archers Coffee. 

Each is doing its part to push the sustainability agenda in this new and vibrant market. Hayley Watson, the founder of Base Brews, explains the choice to go biodegradable felt natural. 

“When starting Base Brews, I had to make a decision regarding which capsule material we would launch with,” Hayley says. “I come from Australia, where there is a great push towards sustainability and making conscious decisions alongside our coffee choices.”

Ultimately, the brand chose to forge the sustainable path and opt for the biodegradable capsule. 

“At first, it seemed that the regional market was far more familiar with aluminum capsules,” Hayley explains. “After some time, the market has increasingly started to accept the biodegradable capsule format.” 

In turn, this is encouraging more businesses and consumers to take steps towards a more sustainable future. 

Switching to renewable sources reduces dependency on fossil fuels and allows coffee businesses to reduce their carbon emissions, even in areas where the recycling infrastructure or practice is not dependable.

MTPAk Coffee offers clients biodegradable PLA packaging in a range of bag shapes and sizes

It is strong, affordable, malleable, and compostable, making it a great choice for roasters and coffee shops looking to communicate their commitment to being eco-friendly. 

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. 

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

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