Understanding coffee packaging recycling facilities around the world

Hayley Osbourne
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May 25, 2023
An image of a recyclable coffee bag, RAVE coffee packaging, recyclable coffee packaging, in an article on coffee packaging recycling facilities around the world

In recent years, consumer demand for sustainable packaging has skyrocketed, with 86% of younger consumers willing to pay more for it. Essentially, sustainable packaging creates the least amount of pollution through its manufacturing, shipping, disposal, or recycling processes. 

Investing in sustainable packaging materials can help specialty coffee roasters reduce their carbon footprint and promote a circular economy to consumers. That said, eco-friendly packaging is only useful if it is disposed of correctly. Failure to do so can result in a negative brand reputation, as improper disposal contributes to the growing plastic pollution crisis.

As recycling and composting facilities vary between countries, it is essential roasters understand the materials used in their coffee packaging. Then, they can invest in bags that are easily recyclable or compostable – depending on which disposal facilities are accessible within the local market.

So, which sustainable coffee packaging materials are best suited to your market? And how can you ensure it is disposed of responsibly? 

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The importance of understanding recycling facilities in your market

Recycling helps safeguard the retention value of materials and ensures they are reusable after processing. However, not all waste is fully recyclable, with the vast majority being incinerated, dumped, or ending up in a landfill. Additionally, the degree to which packaging materials can be recycled often varies from country to country.

Understanding which materials are accepted by local disposal facilities can ensure coffee bags contribute to a circular economy. For instance, if recycling is a success locally, investing in coffee packaging made from bioplastics like polylactic acid (PLA) may be beneficial over compostable bags.

PLA is significantly more eco-friendly than its petroleum-based counterpart. While the manufacture of conventional plastic is estimated to use as much as 200,000 barrels of oil a day in the US alone, PLA is made from renewable and compostable sources. Plus, the production of PLA also involves significantly less energy. In controlled composting environments, PLA-based products can take as little as 90 days to decompose, in contrast to 1,000 years for conventional plastics.  

Roasters can ensure packaging is placed in the appropriate bin by customising coffee bags with recycling instructions. It is also important to remember each element of the coffee bag must be easy to recycle, including inks, adhesives, and accessories, such as degassing valves and zippers.

An image of compostable coffee packaging, kraft paper coffee bags, kraft paper coffee packaging, in an article on coffee packaging recycling facilities

Which coffee packaging materials are best for your market?

To prevent their coffee packaging from contributing to the plastic waste crisis, roasters can research the common disposal facilities within their top markets.

UK

Legislation across the UK requires homes and businesses to separate recyclable materials from other waste. As a result, the country has become a large supporter of recyclable packaging materials and has several state-of-the-art processing facilities available. Additionally, the UK has 53 in-vessel composting facilities, which indicates both recyclable and compostable coffee packaging may be best for the local market.

That said, consumers have less access to industrial composting facilities and may prefer packaging materials that break down in a compost heap at home. As studies show paper is the most recycled material in the UK, roasters should invest in kraft paper coffee bags or those made from rice paper.  

US

According to GreenBiz, only 27% of consumers in the US have access to composting services. More so, a recent study shows the recycling rate in the US has increased to 32%, compared to 7% during the 1960s. Interestingly, recycling and reuse activities currently account for 681,000 jobs and an estimated $37.8 billion in wages.

This being the case, specialty coffee roasters could benefit from offering recyclable coffee packaging to these consumers. These include coffee bags from materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and PLA. 

Canada

At least four in five Canadian households have a compost heap in their garden, while nine in 10 compost their kitchen waste. Despite this, there is still confusion about which product packaging materials are compostable. While several restaurants have switched to compostable plant-based packaging, consumers are incorrectly placing them in recycling bins. They are unknowingly contaminating batches of recyclable waste and contributing to the volume that ends up in landfills or incinerators.

While compostable coffee bags should be used here, roasters must also ensure consumers know where to place empty packaging. Roasters can help by customising bags with at-home composting instructions. Doing this can help roasters appeal to both the Canadian government and the public’s general preference for disposal.

EU

In 2018, the EUROPARC Federation announced that all plastic packaging across the EU would be recyclable by 2030. In a bid to boost the market for recycled plastics in 2022, the European Commission mandated producers use a minimum amount of recycled plastic in packaging. Therefore, recyclable coffee packaging would appeal most to this market.  

By investing in recyclable coffee bags, roasters can ensure they adhere to the standards of the European Commission, and will already abide by the laws before they come into play. In turn, this saves roasters money on future redesigns and finding new suppliers, helping to prevent future delays in supplying products.

An image of a recyclable coffee bag made from LDPE low-density polyethylene, recyclable coffee packaging, recyclable coffee bags, in an article on coffee packaging recycling facilities

How can you ensure your coffee bags are disposed of correctly?

It is essential that roasters communicate clearly with consumers, and this includes the text on coffee bags. The use of jargon, or any attempts to greenwash are likely to drive aware consumers instead of attracting them.

Therefore, roasters should custom-print clear instructions on how their coffee bags should be disposed of after use. These can be integrated into packaging design through custom printing techniques or customised stickers. Another popular technique is the use of QR codes. Once scanned, this directs consumers to a page that displays clear instructions or possibly a tutorial video.

Additionally, a QR code can link consumers to additional information, such as the brands’ sustainability efforts, their importance, and how consumers can get involved.

It is important to note customising coffee bags ensures disposal instructions and details about the packaging materials can be seen by all customers. QR codes, on the other hand, may only appeal to younger, more tech-savvy consumers.  

 MTPak Coffee understands the need to offer high-quality, attractive coffee packaging that is also sustainable. Our range of packaging options is made from renewable materials. Our coffee boxes are made using recycled cardboard, while our sustainable coffee bags are made using kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining

Our coffee bags and coffee boxes can be customised to reflect your brand’s characteristics, as well as vital information about your product. MTPak Coffee offers a wide range of customisation techniques, including spot UV with a glossy, satin, or matte finish, embossing and debossing, as well as hot foil stamping in a variety of colours.

We also offer our clients a quick turnaround time of 40 hours and 24-hour shipping time in addition to low minimum order quantities (MOQs) for those looking to remain agile while showcasing a commitment to the environment.

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging materials, contact our team

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