UV protection in sustainable coffee bags: Understanding materials 

Janice Kanniah
January 9, 2024
sustainable coffee bags, sustainable coffee packaging, UV protection in sustainable coffee bags, UV protection

Thanks to its affordability, performance, and availability, plastic packaging is commonly used in the food and beverage industry. However, it’s estimated that 50% of all the plastic produced annually is designed for single use, which significantly contributes to the plastic waste crisis. 

As a result, the majority of brands are switching to sustainable coffee bags made from eco-friendly materials. Notably, products such as coffee have unique requirements — one of which is the need for UV protection to prevent premature degradation and overall quality loss. 

Currently, there’s no single sustainable material that’s guaranteed to meet the needs of all businesses. Therefore, coffee roasters need to have a fundamental understanding of what each option can offer them. 

To learn more about UV protection in sustainable coffee bags, I spoke to Dr. Ruchir Priyadarshi, a Brain Pool Invited Researcher under the mentorship of Prof. Jong-Whan Rhim, at South Korea’s Kyung Hee University‘s Bionanocomposite Research Center.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Sign up

Why coffee bags needs UV protection

Most food and drink items will spoil over time, which is why they come with recommended best-by dates. Factors such as exposure to oxygen, heat, or moisture can speed up this process and encourage harmful microorganisms to develop. 

While light rarely causes as dramatic a change, it can alter a food’s colour and flavour, resulting in an edible but terrible-tasting product. Ruchir explains that ultra-violet (UV) radiation impacts foods in three fundamental ways:

  1. It deteriorates the nutritional value of the food by oxidising the nutrients. 
  2. It oxidises the fats in foods, such as fried products, to make them rancid.
  3. It bleaches the colour of the food, degrading its visual quality.

Coffee differs from other food products as it doesn’t pose a health risk when exposed to light. Alternatively, it will dramatically decrease in quality. UV exposure will speed up the breakdown of a coffee’s chemical components in a process called photodegradation. This creates a ‘stale’ tasting, less aromatic coffee. As aroma is a major factor in a coffee’s sensory profile, this can lead to dissatisfied customers and poor sales. 

sustainable coffee bags, sustainable coffee packaging, UV protection in sustainable coffee bags, UV protection, custom coffee bags, custom printed coffee bags,

How traditional packaging materials fare against UV radiation 

Ruchir explains how common packaging materials react to UV radiation. He states that visible light has a wavelength ranging from 400 to 800 nanometers, with below 400 nm in the UV region and above 800 nm in the infrared region.

“Paper and metals are opaque and prevent the passage of light,” he says. “Since UV radiation has a wavelength close to visible light, their passage is also prevented.” Ruchir adds that as glass is transparent, it is an inefficient barrier to UV radiation. 

“UV radiations are divided into UV-A (between 320-400 nm), UV-B (between 280-320 nm), and UV-C (below 280 nm). Glass can block the UV-B and UV-C but is highly permeable to UV-A radiation. Therefore, it can be said that paper and metals have high UV-barrier properties.”

The packaging industry employs several strategies to protect different products from UV radiation. For instance, Ruchir explains manufacturers can use “coloured components in the packaging material to prevent the passage of light. For example, vitamins are packed in brown, black, or amber-coloured glass bottles to prevent their exposure to UV and visible light.”

He adds that those wanting to use plastic or bioplastic materials can “add UV absorbers as additives. Commonly used UV-absorbers are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide which are added in small quantities to polymers.”

sustainable coffee bags, sustainable coffee packaging, UV protection in sustainable coffee bags, UV protection, custom coffee bags, custom printed coffee bags,

Exploring the UV protection potential of bioplastics in coffee bags

For decades, plastic was considered to be an ideal packaging material because of its low cost, accessibility, and durability. As the world wakes up to its detrimental impact on the environment, plastic is being replaced with more sustainable alternatives. 

“Conventional plastics cause environmental mayhem,” Ruchir says. “We continuously produce them but can’t get rid of them after they’re used and discarded. They keep on accumulating in the environment and disintegrate into microplastics and nanoplastics, which contaminate soil, water and air.”

According to Ruchir, “biopolymer-based food packaging is an emerging research area, and there’s still a plethora to explore.” Biopolymer-based packaging is renewable, sustainable, non-polluting and degradable. Examples of bioplastics include polylactic acid (PLA). However, PLA requires specific conditions to break down and industrial composters are required. This can be done by high-income countries but is largely unavailable in developing nations. 

“The properties of other biopolymers are still behind that of synthetic plastics”, Ruchir continues. “Limited types of thermoplastic starch-based bioplastics are available for commercial packaging use, however, the large-scale fabrication of biopolymer-based packaging material is also a challenge.”

When it comes to UV protective packaging, Ruchir believes “there’s still a lot to be explored and the market will rise at an exponential rate in the next couple of decades. Our focus on environmental conservation and sustainability has increased over the years and we’ll have completely new materials dominating the market 20 to 25 years from now.”

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable coffee bags that will protect your coffee from light exposure and showcase your commitment to sustainability. Our multilayer, flexible coffee pouches make use of PLA laminates to maintain the recyclable and compostable properties of the packaging, while providing additional barriers to oxygen, light, heat, and moisture.

Beyond this, we can create fully bespoke coffee packaging. Our design team will work with you to customise your sustainable coffee bags, highlighting your brand and adding an extra layer of UV protection to the packaging. We’ll also work with you to provide a complete packaging solution for your business, from custom coffee bags to branded takeaway coffee cups, napkins, cup sleeves, and more.

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging solutions, contact our team. 

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Sign up
Janice Kanniah
Janice Kanniah

Janice is freelance writer based in South Africa and has written for MTPak Coffee since 2020. Her interests are in writing about sustainability, the circular economy, and the future of the environment.

MTPak recommends