Which cold brew coffee packaging is recyclable?

Sam Shipiti
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October 10, 2023
cold brew coffee packaging, recyclable cold brew coffee packaging, cans for cold brew coffee, cans for cold brew, aluminium cans for cold brew coffee, recyclable cans for cold brew coffee, Big Watt Beverage Co.

Over the last decade, cold brew coffee has carved a niche for itself within the global coffee market. Research shows the cold coffee sector is expected to grow by 22% each year for the next five years, bringing its total value to around $1.4 billion by 2027.

This is wonderful news for specialty coffee roasters looking to profit from this growing trend. However, they will have to consider their cold brew coffee packaging carefully, given the rise in environmental issues tied to waste.

Granted, several coffee brands have changed to sustainable packaging. That said, many consumers are still confused about how to recycle packaging materials commonly used with cold brew coffees, such as cans, bottles, and flexible pouches. 

To gain a better understanding of cold brew packaging and how consumers can dispose of it correctly, I spoke with Brandon Martin, head brewer at Big Watt Beverage Co

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Cold brew coffee and the packaging crisis 

A recent survey found younger consumers tend to favour cold brew coffee more than those over the age of 60. Notably, in 2019, the year of the Big TikTok Boom, reports show sales of iced coffees soared in the UK. Out-of-home cold coffee sales increased by 53.4%, while the hot coffee market slowed down, growing only by 0.1% that year.

“The energy around cold brew coffee has definitely been coming from the younger consumers,” agrees Brandon, who is also the co-founder of Philtera Cold Brew. Essentially, Millennials and Gen Z have been the driving force behind the growing popularity of cold brew coffee. 

However, Brandon points out that the ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage is slowly becoming more popular with older generations as it becomes more accessible and familiar. 

As the popularity of cold brew continues to grow, many within the speciality coffee industry are finding innovative ways to package it with little to no environmental impact. Packaging accounts for around 3% of the coffee supply chain’s total carbon footprint. If plastic packaging isn’t properly sourced, produced, transported, and discarded, it can be detrimental to the environment. 

To be truly “green”, packaging must do more than simply be recyclable or reusable – its entire life needs to be sustainable. So, how can coffee brands package cold brew in a way that protects the environment? 

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Sustainable ways to package cold brew coffee

Specialty coffee roasters and cafes have several packaging options when it comes to cold brew. Ultimately, the goal should be to invest in cold brew packaging that is advantageous to the company, convenient for customers, and eco-friendly. 

Cans for cold brew coffee

The beverage industry highly favours tin cans for not only their aesthetic value but also their convenience. Within beverage manufacturing, Brandon reveals that “the equipment needed to package cold brew becomes more versatile if you go with cans as opposed to plastic or glass bottles.”

“Another silver lining is that cans made from aluminium are infinitely recyclable,” Brandon adds, making them a sustainable option for several businesses. 

Aluminium cans for cold brew coffee are lightweight and convenient, which appeals to manufacturers, distributors, and consumers. Beyond that, cans are highly effective at preserving the freshness and flavour of cold brew coffee, while doubling its shelf life. 

More so, every inch of aluminium cans is customisable, which can help brands elevate their image and mindshare. 

However, according to Brandon, one of the largest limitations with cans for cold brew can be the material used to keep the cans together. Six-pack rings or six-pack yokes are sets of connected plastic rings or lids that are used in multi-pack beverages, particularly cans. 

“Most businesses use plastics, some of which may not be recyclable,” Brandon explains. Plastic six-pack rings are known to entangle sea animals, sometimes remaining stuck while the animal grows. More often, they are ingested by sea animals and birds.

That said, innovations mean plastic rings may soon be a thing of the past. These accessories are becoming more sustainable as they’re made from materials like cardboard and leftover barley straw. 

Glass bottles

Like aluminium cans, glass bottles also allow for stylish labelling and customisation. More so, glass can be recycled endlessly without losing quality. Additionally, research shows consumers perceive glass to be the most reusable material compared to other conventional packaging materials. 

Unfortunately, glass demands more responsibility when it comes to shipping and handling. Failure to store or handle it with care will inevitably result in a messy accident, and shattered glass could be a serious threat to the safety of consumers and staff. 

Single-serve sachets for cold brew concentrate

Another way cold brew offers consumers convenience is through its concentrated form. Cold brew concentrate is made by steeping roasted coffee in cold or room-temperature water for extended periods. The result is a smooth, flavourful concentrate that can be mixed with water or milk to create cold brew coffee. 

Single-serve sachets can be useful when a brand is trialling a new range of cold brew concentrates. That said, they can be a significant contributor to packaging waste as the majority are lined with some form of plastic. 

Notably, a number of recyclable and compostable options have become available as the popularity of cold brew concentrates continues to rise. 

Flexible pouches for cold brew coffee

Flexible pouches are emerging as a favourite form of cold brew coffee packaging. Younger generations are enticed by the unconventional yet stylish look, while businesses favour their space-saving abilities. 

Flexible packaging is designed to use as little material as possible to package goods, ensuring a high packaging-to-product ratio. This has the dual benefit of reducing the amount of waste and keeping down carbon emissions involved in transportation. Large quantities of flexible packaging can be packed and shipped in single containers, helping to limit the number of journeys between supplier and roaster.

Cold brew coffee cartons

Cartons also translate well to cold brew coffee products, as they are one of the more affordable options. Additionally, they are easy to stack and transport, and are more difficult to break or burst. 

From a sustainability view, they are an easy-to-recycle option, as they are often made from paper or cardboard. That said, some may argue that the sense of luxury is lost when drinking from a paper carton, which may make it difficult to sell cold brew at a premium price point. After all, one of cold brew coffee’s largest strengths and appeals is its Instagram potential.

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Considering sustainability in cold brew coffee

Part of the objectives outlined in the 2022 International Coffee Agreement involved the development of a sustainable coffee economy in environmental terms. As the coffee industry has a significant carbon footprint, it is now up to each stakeholder to do their part to reduce it.  

Every stage of the coffee supply chain, from the farm to consumption, releases carbon emissions into the atmosphere. For example, a single shot of espresso has a carbon footprint of nearly 0.3 kg, according to an analysis by the University College London (UCL). Throw in flavourings and other additions and the figure rises to between 0.4 and 0.5 kg per cup. 

As specialty coffee is an ever-growing industry, actions must be taken to reduce the emissions and other environmental threats it poses. For example, one step is to invest in sustainable cold brew coffee packaging, such as infinitely recyclable aluminium cans, BPA-free bottles, and flexible pouches made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE), or polylactic acid (PLA).

At MTPak Coffee, we have an abundance of packaging solutions for your cold brew coffee. From cold brew filling machines that ensure perfect accuracy each time, to infinitely recyclable aluminium cans, paper cartons, flexible coffee pouches, and BPA-free bottles.

We use eco-friendly digital printing methods and sustainable inks to reduce energy emissions, providing you with a low-carbon footprint product perfect for appeasing the younger generations’ sustainability concerns.

Images from Big Watt Beverage Co.

For more information on cold brew coffee packaging, contact our team

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