Does sustainable coffee packaging “expire”?

Hayley Osbourne
May 22, 2023

In recent years, concerns over the amount of plastic production have grown considerably, which has led to the widespread emergence of sustainable coffee packaging. Put simply, sustainable coffee packaging is any type of packaging that reduces the environmental impact of a business.

This can be done by using 100% recycled or raw materials to create packaging materials, minimising the production process, supply chain and carbon footprint, and creating a circular economy around the packaging, extending its life cycle and usability.

For specialty coffee roasters, this means adopting packaging made from renewable resources, such as kraft paper, and/or using recyclable or compostable materials, like low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and polylactic acid (PLA). These materials are designed to break down within a set period when placed under certain conditions. Due to the organic elements of these packaging materials, many wonder whether there is a possibility they could lose integrity over time, or essentially “expire” when left in storage.

Read on to learn more about sustainable coffee packaging and whether the compostable or biodegradable elements are at risk of expiring.

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What dates are commonly published on coffee bags?

Expiration dates are printed on all forms of food or beverage packaging to indicate when the contents should be consumed by. Within the coffee industry, the dates printed on packaging can mean a variety of things however, very rarely are they an indication of the packaging’s durability. Some common dates printed on coffee bags include:

Roast date

A roast date is meant to reflect the day on which the beans were roasted, giving consumers an indication of how fresh their coffee is upon purchase. Three to five days post-roasting is around the optimal time for coffee to be consumed. By looking at the roast date, consumers can determine whether they are likely to consume the coffee within that period. Roast dates are most commonly found on specialty coffee packaging, as larger corporations are more likely to print a best-by-date, due to the product remaining on the shelf for longer.

Best before date

This date is found on all packaging and should highlight the durable life period of the coffee and when it ends. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, durable life means the anticipated amount of time an unopened and correctly stored food product retains its freshness, taste, and nutritional value.

Expiry date

Expiry dates are required for foods that have specific nutritional compositions that could fluctuate after the expiry date. This indicates coffee lacks the nutrient content described on the packaging label after this date has passed. While all dates on packaging should be adhered to, expiry dates are essential, as consuming organic materials passed them may result in serious illness.

Notably, a 2020 study found consumers often struggle to distinguish dates on food packaging. The expiration date, for example, is particularly misinterpreted as only meaning there will be a decrease in the quality of the food, as opposed to being a safety precaution. More so, another study reveals 69% of consumers say they often miss the best-before dates on consumables.

An image of unbleached kraft paper coffee bags on display in a coffee shop, in an article on whether sustainable coffee packaging expires

Will your coffee packaging expire?

Several factors may contribute to packaging materials losing integrity or durability, such as incorrect transport and storage conditions. Largely, it will depend on the packaging material you have chosen to invest in.

Kraft paper

Kraft paper is a durable, versatile, and cost-effective material for coffee bags, making it one of the most commonly used within the specialty sector. In addition to being moisture and temperature-resistant, kraft paper is compostable as it is made from at least 80% wood pulp. Studies have shown kraft paper can retain its qualities in storage for up to 18 months.

Rice paper

Due to its flexibility and strength, rice paper is highly tear resistant, making it an ideal material for coffee packaging. Rice paper is made from tetrapanax papyrifer, or the rice-paper plant. When used in packaging, it is usually made with renewable resources, such as quintan tree bark, hemp, or bamboo, which makes it an eco-friendly option. A 2017 study found that biodegradable materials, such as rice paper, are able to provide the protection and strength required for coffee packaging.


LDPE is a thermoplastic that is commonly used in coffee bags as it is both recyclable and cost-effective. This packaging material is thin, lightweight, and flexible, with the ability to withstand temperatures of up to 80°C. It has similar characteristics to traditional plastics, including a long shelf life, but it is fully recyclable and easy to reuse.


PLA is made from the fermentation of carbohydrates from renewable resources such as maize, cornstarch, and sugarcane. One of the principal benefits of this material is that it is significantly more eco-friendly than its petroleum-based counterpart. The production of PLA also involves significantly less energy. One study suggests that switching from petroleum-based to corn-based plastics would cut US greenhouse gas emissions by a quarter. In controlled composting environments, PLA-based products can take as little as 90 days to decompose, in contrast to a 1,000 years for conventional plastics.

An image of a LDPE coffee bag with a PLA lining in a coffee shop with a barista in the background in an article on whether sustainable coffee packaging expires

How can roasters ensure packaging integrity?

As freshness is one of the pillars of third-wave specialty coffee, it is the roaster’s responsibility to prolong the shelf life of their coffee and ensure it’s still fresh when consumed. Storing coffee packaging correctly, whether filled with beans or empty, is essential to maintaining both the integrity of the materials, as well as the freshness of the beans. For instance, roasters should ensure their coffee bags are kept away from heat sources and are kept in a cool, dry environment.

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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