What to consider when customising compostable coffee bags

Sam Shipiti
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December 25, 2023
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Coffee packaging is an essential element for attracting consumer attention. Furthermore, it can have a powerful influence on buying habits. For instance, a recent report found that 67% of consumers consider it important for the products they buy to be in sustainable packaging. Therefore, investing in compostable coffee bags can help boost revenue and customer loyalty. 

Beyond this, custom printed coffee bags can increase brand awareness and mindshare. But what customisation techniques are best suited to compostable coffee bags? And how can coffee brands ensure their packaging does not contribute to the growing plastic waste crisis?

To unravel the specifics of customising compostable coffee bags, I spoke to Chris Vigilante, the CEO of Vigilante Coffee Company, and Ashely Bodine, the brand’s Chief Financial Officer and co-founder. 

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Which form of sustainable material is best for you? 

While it may seem minimal, packaging contributes about 3% of the coffee industry’s carbon footprint. E-commerce has fueled this further, generating 4.8 times more waste than offline shopping. As a result, more businesses are investing in more eco-friendly packaging alternatives. 

Coffee roasters tend to favour polyethylene plastics, such as low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) because of how easily they can be recycled.  This is compared to traditional plastics, such as polypropylene and polystyrene. 

Coffee bags made from bioplastic polylactic acid (PLA) have also gained popularity. Despite being made from compostable materials such as fermented cornstarch, PLA coffee bags require exclusive collection to be recycled.

Vigilante Coffee has a powerful presence across the East and West Coast of the US. Since its inception, the brand has seen packaging trends come and go, which has provided the team with invaluable insight into what resonates with consumers.

Chris explains the brand uses “flexible packaging made from plant-based renewable and compostable sources such as wood pulp and sugarcane.” He adds it took a similar approach with takeaway coffee cups. “We work with a company called World Centric which supplies us with sustainable cups for our on-the-go customers.” 

Ashley admits compostability was top of their agenda while choosing packaging for the brand. “We decided to go with compostable packages because they will break up, whether they end up in a home compost or as trash.” She adds that “they break down faster than plastic or something that you would normally recycle.”

Paper-based packaging has also become popular within the coffee industry. Common materials include kraft paper, rice paper, bamboo, and corrugated cardboard. “We don’t have plastic lids,” notes Ashely. “The lids for our takeaway coffee cups are made of paper because it is compostable.” Paper is not only compostable, but it also boasts a higher recycling rate of 68%.

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Understanding the importance of sustainable coffee packaging 

Recent reports show that over 90% of all global plastic ever produced still exists. This disrupts ecosystems and fuels climate change through greenhouse gases, posing far-reaching social, economic, and health risks.

Plastic packaging is the largest single source of plastic waste in the EU. Furthermore, food and beverage packaging accounts for 40% of all of it. Regrettably, the coffee industry implicates itself, as seen in the UK, where over 99% of disposable takeaway coffee cups evade recycling. It’s no different in the US. Ashley explains that many items are incorrectly recycled or end up in landfills instead of being recycled, polluting the environment.

As coffee consumption continues to rise, businesses must explore sustainable strategies to minimise the impact of their packaging on the environment. Recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable coffee bags have emerged to fill this gap. These materials can be reused, converted into new materials, or left to decompose without harming the environment. 

Beyond this, more specialty coffee roasters are now labelling coffee bags with disposal information, in addition to offering incentives that encourage customers to reuse them. Similar efforts have been made by Vigilante Coffee. “We have a page on our website that talks about disposal and composting our custom compostable coffee bags,” Ashely notes. 

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Customising compostable coffee bags: What to consider

At the very least, coffee consumers expect packaging to maintain the freshness and flavour of the beans. The next area of focus is likely to be the design. While aesthetics matter, the largest factor is how the brand’s identity is conveyed. 

“It’s important to have your brand represented on the bag,” Ashely explains while admitting that this worked well for their brand. “It’s been a good idea for us to do that.” 

Generally, the goal should be to strike a perfect balance between art and messaging. Getting this right will leave a lasting first impression on customers. More so, it will go a long way in building brand loyalty and awareness. Chris agrees. “Customers will have something to recognise when they become familiar with your brand, whether that’s the name or imagery you use on your coffee bags.”

Beyond the visual cues, such as labels and stickers, and the core messaging, the functionality of the bags must also be considered.  

Resealable zippers and tin ties 

It is essential that compostable coffee bags protect the beans against oxygen, light, heat, and moisture – while keeping them accessible to the consumer. Resealable zippers are an effective solution. “The releasable zippers on our 12-ounce bags are really useful as they can keep the coffee fresh as customers use them,” Chris says. 

There are several variations to choose from, including press-to-close zippers, double tracks, and slide zippers. Alternatively, there are tin ties. However, some of these comprise plastic. “You have to cut those particular parts out before composting the bags,” explains Chris. “We removed the plastic tin tie on our 12-ounce bag because we wanted to minimise waste.”  

Degassing valves

Custom coffee bags are going to need degassing valves, which prolong the freshness and quality of the beans. That said, it’s important to ensure these are placed in the right place on your coffee bags. At Vigilante, Chris says they “had to be careful where we place the degassing valve so that it doesn’t interfere when you stamp the bag.” 

Ensuring sustainability

Sustainability goes beyond materials; it’s about embracing responsible practices in every step of the customisation journey. That includes the inks, adhesives, and printing methods. Chris has similar advice. “As a coffee roaster, you want to make sure you are working with a packaging company that at least tries to go about everything sustainably.”

At Vigilante Coffee, “The label on our compostable coffee bags has a name, but we use a stamp instead of a sticker to reduce the need for paper and chemicals.”

Chris encourages upcoming coffee roasters to fully involve themselves in the customisation process. “There’s a sense of pride in designing your bag and improving it over time,” he says, adding that even without a budget, the journey of customising coffee bags is far more fun and fulfilling. 

At MTPak Coffee, we offer recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable coffee packaging solutions made from natural sources such as kraft paper, rice paper, and LDPE with an eco-friendly PLA lining. We also give you the freedom to personalise every detail of your packaging, and our design team is always ready to help when needed. 

Images courtesy of Vigilante Coffee Company

For more information on customising compostable coffee bags, contact our team

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