What is excess coffee packaging & how can you reduce it?

Antonio Salles
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October 31, 2023
coffee packaging, excess coffee packaging, prevent coffee packaging waste, prevent excess coffee packaging, coffee bags

Product packaging has been a major contributor to pollution and global warming for many years. And, as the amount of environmentally conscious consumers continues to grow, the issue of excessive coffee packaging has become a pressing concern. 

This is particularly true when it comes to coffee subscriptions and online orders. A typical online order for coffee often includes a coffee bag with a label, marketing materials, a packing list or receipt, as well as a shipping box, packing tape and a shipping label.

This excess coffee packaging can not only have detrimental effects on the environment but also lead to a negative consumer experience. 

So how can specialty coffee roasters avoid excess coffee packaging without compromising on their product? To learn more, I spoke with Pedro Echavarria, the manager at Pergamino Café in Colombia, and Andy Newbom, the cofounder of Torque Coffees

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What is ‘excess packaging’?

Essentially, excess packaging refers to an unnecessary or disproportionate amount of packaging materials. It involves using additional materials for product protection, preservation, or presentation. 

While this practice often results in increased costs for businesses, it also leads to large amounts of waste and inefficient use of resources. 

To illustrate what constitutes excessive packaging and to provide a practical definition, we consider the efforts made by the Chinese government. To align food companies with new regulations, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) has introduced specific technical guidelines for assessing excessive packaging

These guidelines include setting upper limits for the packaging void rate, ranging from 10% to 25%, depending on the product category and packaging weight. A packaging void refers to the empty space between the product and the walls of the packaging. 

The guidelines state that items such as vegetables and eggs are allowed a maximum of three layers of packaging. Other products such as fruits, meat, and seafood items are limited to four layers. 

Moreover, there are restrictions on the cost of packaging relative to the sales price of agrifood products. These must not exceed 20% for general items and 15% for specific products with a higher sales price.

“This standard will provide a legal basis and backing to guide the strengthening of whole supply chain management when it comes to the excessive packaging of commodities,” the SAMR said in a formal statement

coffee packaging, excess coffee packaging, prevent coffee packaging waste, prevent excess coffee packaging, coffee bags

Excess coffee packaging: What does it look like? 

As of 2023, the market size of subscription boxes stands at $22.7 billion and is expected to reach $65 billion by 2027. However, a recent report argues there are unseen environmental costs to this, such as excess packaging and costly returns ending up in landfills

In the specialty coffee industry, a typical monthly subscription may include several small coffee bags, marketing materials, receipts, and a shipping box, to name a few. Depending on the type of subscription, secondary packaging may also include padded mailers, shrink wrap, and air pillows. 

As recent studies show that 81% of consumers are seeking sustainable packaging solutions, coffee roasters must sustainably package their subscriptions.

Pedro shares a nuanced perspective on excessive packaging. “There’s obviously a fine line between good packaging and excess. Within specialty coffee, it boils down to what makes a difference in terms of marketing and creating an experience for the consumer when they receive the product. I think it can be challenging to know where excess packaging begins,” he says. 

“That said, I think I would prefer less bundling over an excess amount of product packaging,” he adds. 

coffee packaging, excess coffee packaging, prevent coffee packaging waste, prevent excess coffee packaging, coffee bags

Strategies for reducing excess coffee packaging

One idea to reduce excess packaging is to consider its entire life cycle. To be “green,” packaging must do more than be recyclable or reusable – its whole life needs to be sustainable. 

Therefore, coffee roasters must consider the entire lifecycle of their coffee packaging, from sourcing the materials to their disposal. 

One specialty coffee brand that takes packaging extremely seriously is Torque Coffees. The brand combined its retail coffee box and shipping box into one simple package to reduce materials by 50%. 

“We designed our packaging from the ground up specifically for e-commerce and shipping to use 100% recycled paper products,” explains Andy, who has worked across several facets of the specialty coffee industry. 

The brand uses no stickers or tape, investing only in compostable shipping labels that are easy to recycle or for consumers to compost at home. The Torque Coffee box comprises a coffee box, an inner coffee bag, and a compostable shipping label. 

By stripping it down to the bare essentials, Torque Coffee offers a subscription box that is 100% plastic-free, 100% plant-based, and 100% home-compostable.

Kua Coffee is another notable success story in its mission to reduce coffee packaging waste. The brand has implemented a circular business model, lending coffee beans to local businesses and collecting used coffee grounds. 

As a result, Kua Coffee has diverted over 3,000 kg of spent coffee grounds from landfills, which has a dual benefit. First, it prevents these grounds from emitting methane in landfills, contributing to climate change. Second, it promotes the reuse of coffee grounds for various applications such as composting, mushroom cultivation, and beauty products, further reducing the demand for new resources.

Additionally, Kua Coffee has collaborated with indigenous and community organisations like Indigrow, Randwick Community Garden, and Camdenville Community Garden. This demonstrates how the brand’s initiative benefits local communities and fosters a sense of community involvement and support, maintaining high customer satisfaction.

At MTPak Coffee, we can help you create coffee packaging that has a minimal impact on the environment. With our range of biodegradable, recyclable, and compostable coffee packaging materials, you’ll be able to offer a fully sustainable product to your consumers. More so, both our sustainable coffee bags and coffee boxes can be fully customised to accurately reflect your brand, or inform customers of how to dispose of empty coffee packaging. 

Additionally, our low MOQ options will help keep costs down, allowing you to remain agile in an increasingly competitive market. More so, thanks to our eco-friendly and innovative digital printing technology, we can offer our clients quick turnaround and shipping times.  

Images courtesy of Pergamino Café and Torque Coffees

For more information on sustainable coffee bags, contact our team. 

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