The difference between ‘recycled’ & ‘recyclable’ coffee packaging materials

JP Blignaut
March 30, 2023
An image of a coffee roaster handling coffee bags made from recyclable coffee packaging materials in an article on understanding the difference between ‘recycled’ & ‘recyclable’ coffee packaging materials

As consumer trends change, a growing number are now choosing to support organisations that have sustainability goals in place. 

As a result, the coffee industry is working to develop and introduce more eco-conscious packaging options and business practices in order to appeal to an ever-changing market. 

Research shows that as of January 2023, over 81% of consumers are demanding sustainable packaging. This is a consecutive increase from the 64% recorded in 2021. 

Players across the coffee supply chain have been developing techniques to help them minimise their carbon footprint. 

For example, coffee farms are experimenting with biotechnological applications to reduce industrial residue and promote more sustainable efforts for production. Additionally, coffee shops and roasters are switching to renewable materials for their coffee bags and takeaway packaging. 

Efforts such as these are helping the industry move towards eco-friendly practices, not only to appeal to eco-conscious consumers but also to minimise the impact it has on the environment. 

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The growing popularity of “upcycling”

Across several industries, more companies are moving toward implementing sustainable practices. 

This may be because upcycling and similar environmental efforts are seeing stronger consumer demand. 

Upcycling refers to transforming existing materials or products into something new and of higher value. 

For some companies, upcycling poses a resolute status for many manufacturers. 

For instance, the fashion industry produces around 8% to 10% of global CO2 emissions. Recently, the industry has seen several well-known household names commit to upcycling existing garments and turning them into new and usable pieces. 

Another example is Ocean Sole, based in Nairobi, Kenya, which upcycles over 1,276,000lbs of plastic flip-flops retrieved from beaches around the country into art sculptures. 

Additionally, in 2019, American clothing and apparel brand, Patagonia, launched its ReCrafted collection as an experiment. The brand assembles new pieces using previously worn items. 

Since the introduction of ReCrafted, Patagonia has continued to release new collections made from upcycled materials every season. 

Re-using materials, and giving them a second, third or even fourth purpose, is a facet that has helped companies lower their direct impact on the surrounding environment.

More so, it has helped produce more sustainable products. 

An image of a coffee bag made from recycled kraft paper, kraft paper coffee bags in an article on understanding the difference between ‘recycled’ & ‘recyclable’ coffee packaging materials

‘Recycled’ vs ‘recyclable’ coffee packaging materials

When it comes to sustainability in packaging, especially for the coffee industry, two different practices stand out above others. 

The first is recycled materials, which are considered materials and byproducts that have been diverted from solid waste. 

Instead of using newly manufactured materials, packaging manufacturers can develop products from pre-existing byproducts. 

Within the coffee industry, there are several examples of recycled and recyclable materials being used in packaging. 

Recycled packaging includes the likes of kraft paper coffee bags. These are often made from recycled paper and other materials to construct durable and unbleached paper products. 

Another option is to use coffee packaging materials that are recyclable. This refers to packaging materials that can form part of the recycling process. These can be used to create a new range of products instead of using raw or virgin materials. 

The materials often include which can be made from kraft paper, recyclable plastics, or bioplastics. 

Several coffee shops and roasters have switched to coffee packaging made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE)

LDPE is a thermoplastic characterised by its properties as a thin, lightweight, and flexible material. The ease and affordability with which LDPE can be reused and recycled help sets it apart from traditional plastics.

More so, the majority of coffee businesses have also opted to use takeaway coffee cups made from compostable or recyclable materials. When combined with water-based inks and eco-friendly adhesives, these cups create a completely sustainable product

Furthermore, these compostable takeaway coffee cups comprise a polylactic acid (PLA) lining

PLA is  one of the most highly produced bioplastics in the world and is found in everything, from textiles to cosmetics. 

PLA is made from the fermentation of carbohydrates from renewable resources such as maize, cornstarch, and sugarcane. Depending on the recycling process PLA undergoes, it can be reused for different purposes.

A recent report by Drapers found an increasing number of UK consumers are demanding sustainable packaging. Around 64% of respondents were more likely to purchase products from businesses that had sustainable packaging. 

More so, around 50% of respondents are willing to pay more if sustainable packaging options and delivery were available. 

While the introduction of recyclable and recycled packaging into the mainstream economy is still slow, the coffee industry can leverage these possibilities to grow its sustainability goals as consumer trends evolve. 

An image of a coffee bag made from recyclable coffee packaging materials with an environmentally friendly PLA lining in an article on understanding the difference between ‘recycled’ & ‘recyclable’ coffee packaging materials

How can roasters convey this information on coffee bags? 

Introducing recyclable packaging can be well worth the effort for many roasters and coffee shop owners. 

That said, it may be redundant if consumers are misinformed on how to discard and recycle these products properly. 

Therefore, coffee brands must consider how to relay recycling information on their packaging. 

For instance, roasters can custom-print disposal instructions on their coffee bags. This information can include the typical triangular arrow symbol, accompanied by the word ‘LDPE’ and a number inside the triangle. 

Information such as this shows customers the number of times the packaging can be recycled. 

Another option is to indicate the material from which the packaging has been constructed, and whether it is safe to discard in recycling bins. 

Displaying this information means coffee roasters can provide more transparency to their customers, and help to avoid confusion on how to dispose of coffee packaging without impacting the environment. 

Information about the packaging materials used should be displayed at the front or back of the bag, or underneath it. 

In recent years, several coffee roasteries have gone one step further by communicating their sustainability efforts and goals as part of their marketing strategies. 

MTPak Coffee is on hand to help coffee brands convey their sustainability goals to customers and ensure their packaging is recycled properly. 

We offer a full range of 100% recyclable coffee packaging solutions in a variety of sizes and structures including quad seal bags, stand-up pouches, side gusset coffee bags, and more. 

Furthermore, we offer a range of customisable coffee boxes made from 100% recycled cardboard. These are ideal options for roasters who wish to test out a new design without overwhelming customers. 

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

Take control over the design process by building your own coffee bag. We use innovative digital printing technology to ensure your custom-printed coffee packaging is a perfect representative of your brand. 

We also offer a quick turnaround time of 40-hours and 24-hour shipping time, and low minimum order quantities (MOQs) to micro-roasters who are looking to remain agile while showcasing a commitment to sustainability.

For more information on coffee packaging made from recycled and recyclable materials, contact our team

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JP Blignaut
JP Blignaut

JP is a writer for MTPak Coffee and is very passionate about his craft.

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