How to dispose of kraft paper tin tie coffee bags

Paul Clearfire
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November 8, 2023
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While coffee may be a shelf-stable product and can be safe to consume after its sell-by date, it will degrade in quality over time. For customers to enjoy a coffee’s origins, complex aromas, and flavours, roasters must ensure it is packaged and stored effectively in order to protect these characteristics.

Kraft paper tin tie coffee bags are one of the most affordable ways for the majority of roasters to package their product. Notably, the demand for tin ties is predicted to increase from $9.54 billion in 2022 to around $16.3 billion in just a decade’s time. 

That said, there are concerns about the sustainability of tin ties, as they are traditionally single-use and can be challenging to recycle. As they often ‌combine materials that can be difficult to separate, such as plastic, metal, and paper, they have the potential to contribute to plastic pollution. 

To learn more about the tin ties, their sustainability, and how consumers can dispose of items such as kraft paper tin tie coffee bags, I spoke with several specialty coffee roasters. 

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Tin Ties and packaging: A brief history

An urban legend attributes the idea of twist ties to a man named George Hinson. Legend has it that he formed the idea for tin ties, also known as twist ties, after twisting his ankle during a ballgame. 

However, the first documented record of ‘twist ties’ comes from the T&T company (a.k.a Germain). T&T developed the first twist tie for the produce industry and filed a patent for their design in 1939 under the brand name ‘Twist-em’s’. T&T made the original Twist-ems from a single galvanised wire encased in a paper sheath. 

According to T&T purchasing agent and employee of 65 years, Don Rogers, twist ties first came into use in the produce industry in the 1940s. For years, farmers and markets had been using rubber bands to collect and hold vegetable bunches. With the Great Depression and the subsequent onset of World War II, rubber became difficult to come by. Produce companies turned to twist ties as an alternative. 

In 1961, farmhand Charles Burford invented a machine for automatically applying twist ties onto bread bags. Since then, other manufacturers have improved and expanded the concept to include both single and double wire ties made from a variety of materials, including stainless steel, paper, and various plastics.

By adding an adhesive backing, producers could offer ties that stayed attached to the bag. This created a convenient, resealable container for preserving a large variety of perishable and non-perishable items. 

The humble tin tie soon found a home on packaging bags that contained diverse items such as bath salts, marbles, popcorn, doughnuts, and, of course, coffee.

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Tin ties on kraft paper coffee bags: Understanding the pros and cons 

Modern tin ties used for coffee bags are typically flat, double-wire ties encased in a plastic or kraft paper sheath. Larger roasters often apply tin ties via fully automated manufacturing, bagging and sealing machines. These often use ties made with a coating of hot-melt glue. 

Alternatively, many smaller roasters opt for tin ties manufactured with a pressure-sensitive adhesive and apply them by hand. Notably, these ties include a protective backing that roasters must account for in their waste stream. 

For instance, Louise Priest, the owner of The Creemore Coffee Company explains the brand uses coffee bags that are 60% compostable, except for the valve and tin ties. “We make sure to instruct our customers to remove these two items, as well as the label, so the bag is as clean as possible when it comes to recycling.”

On the plus side, tin ties provide a resealable solution that extends the usability of the bag. Some consumers reuse their tin tie bags for several trips to the market as they can be refilled multiple times. 

Tin ties also provide a convenient measure of remaining stock. Users typically roll the bag over the tin tie to the level of the contents. This allows for a quick visual stock check. 

On the other hand, tin ties incorporate multiple materials with disparate disposal requirements. Neither recyclable, biodegradable nor compostable, tin ties are thus considered single-use items, destined for a landfill or an incinerator.

Therefore, when combined with coffee bags that are otherwise recyclable, compostable or biodegradable, tin ties present a disposal challenge. 

Specialty coffee roasters and café owners concerned with the impact of their waste essentially have two options for dealing with tin ties:

  1. Ensure consumers remove them from the bag and dispose of them separately.
  2. Avoid using tin ties altogether in favour of other options, such as zippers. 

“I think, sometimes, the narrative of sustainability is that it has to be about big businesses,” explains Alex Shaw, the founder of Kickback Coffee in the UK. “They’re the ones that make the change, and you can only do it if you have resources, be it people or finances. 

“But there are so many small things that we can do, and they all add up. Don’t try to solve the world’s biggest problem of sustainability. Look for those small, simple changes that you can actively make,” he advises. 

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What are the best options for disposing of kraft paper tin tie coffee bags?

Regardless of which of these options is best for your community, customers will have to remove tin ties from coffee bags and process them separately. Your business can assist them by printing clear instructions on the bag or the tie. 

Another option is to offer a bag collection and recycling programme. Vienna Coffee in Marysville, Tennessee devised such a system to deal with the tricky problem of recycling tin tie bags made from foil, which is not traditionally recyclable. 

The brand’s system provides separate drop-off boxes for tin ties and bags. Vienna Coffee then hands these off to separate companies for processing.

As with all waste management choices, disposing of kraft paper tin tie coffee bags begins with their materials. Choose materials that are best suited to the facilities and practices in your community, in alignment with your business’ values. 

The first step is to get to know the materials used in coffee bags and how they behave in different waste environments. 

Some materials commonly used in bags advertised as ‘compostable’, for instance, polylactic acid (PLA), require specific industrial composting methods for optimal breakdown. Not all municipal composting facilities accept PLA, so you will want to verify compatibility with local facilities before introducing it into your community waste stream. 

Next, get to know how your community or municipality deals with waste. If they use an incinerator to burn waste and convert that energy into power, that can be a valid option for reducing the carbon footprint of many materials that would otherwise be considered for recycling or composting. 

At MTPak Coffee, we offer roasters and coffee shops a variety of ways to preserve the freshness of roasted coffee. We can help you determine which sealing option is best, whether it be tin ties, loop zippers, tear notches, or ziplocks. 

All of our resealable features can be seamlessly integrated into our recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable coffee bags made from 100% recyclable materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, LDPE, and lined with PLA

Furthermore, we offer a perfect solution for micro-roasters by providing low minimum order quantities (MOQ) on both recyclable and traditional options.

Article images courtesy of The Creemore Coffee Company & Kickback Coffee

For more information on eco-friendly features for sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team

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