Recyclable coffee bags gaining popularity across the EU and beyond

Holly Szakal
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February 23, 2024
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The sustainable coffee revolution is in full force. Notably, a 2020 study found that 48% of all global coffee launches are now completely sustainable. With modern consumers showing more environmental concern than ever before, the topic of climate change, plastic production, pollution, and single-use packaging is a hot one. These concerns have led consumers to support more brands that align with their personal values, such as using recyclable coffee bags.

Coffee consumption is a daily ritual for billions of people, spanning across many countries, religions, and cultures. Therefore, many brands recognise the need to move away from traditional packaging materials. As a result, many coffee businesses are investing in sustainable coffee packaging as a kind-to-earth alternative. For example, options such as recyclable coffee bags can help brands appeal to consumer expectations while reducing their own carbon footprint. 

To gain a better understanding of the popularity of recyclable coffee bags, I spoke to Conor Conway, Director and Founder of Epoch Chemistry Coffee Company, and Paul Harris of Derelict Coffee Roasters

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Why are recyclable coffee bags essential? 

Traditional packaging materials, such as petroleum-based plastics, can take hundreds of years to break down. Recyclable coffee bags, on the other hand, are designed to be easily recycled, thus reducing their overall environmental impact. 

Moving to sustainable packaging has become essential. Over the last seven decades, the global production of plastic has amounted to a staggering 6.3 billion metric tonnes, with single-use packaging emerging as the predominant sector. 

Recyclable coffee bags also offer major benefits, such as improving a brand’s public image and helping to attract new and loyal customers. Notably, it’s these customers who have admitted they’ll pay more for a product that prioritises sustainability. 

Conor Conway, the director and founder of Epoch Coffee, shares his experiences meeting this high demand for sustainability. “As a coffee business, we often demand an extremely high level of sustainability and transparency from our producers, but sadly, we don’t ‘walk the walk’ hand in hand with them,” he says. “Sustainable packaging is just one small way that we can build off the hard work our producing partners are doing and support the global sustainability crisis.”

“As governments swiftly move to change legislation regarding recyclable and sustainable packing options, it is imperative that the coffee industry, which drinks the most beverages in the world, be not only ahead of the curve but leading the charge,” Conor adds. “We have the power to make a difference!”

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The growing popularity of recyclable coffee bags across the EU

In 2019, the European Parliament approved a directive banning single-use plastics, including items such as straws, cutlery, and polystyrene food containers. It has since proposed even higher targets. 

Teresa Ribera Rodríguez, the Minister for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge of Spain was quoted saying that “190kg of packaging waste was generated by each European in 2021. And this figure will grow by nearly 20% in 2030 if things stay the same. We cannot let that happen.”

“Today’s general approach gives a strong message that the EU is committed to reducing and preventing packaging waste from all sources,” she continues. “This regulation is crucial in our path to a circular economy and a climate-neutral Europe.”

This directive aims to reduce litter because of single-use plastic and promote a more circular economy. This will be done by encouraging the implementation of recyclable and biodegradable materials – a trend that is expected to be carried around the globe.  

As a result, EU-based coffee businesses are facing increasing pressure to find sustainable alternatives due to not only their regulatory legalities but also consumer demand. 

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What does this mean for coffee roasters in the EU & beyond? 

For coffee roasters in the EU, and other sustainably forward-thinking nations, investing in recyclable or biodegradable packaging is no longer a trend. It has become a fundamental and critical shift, with serious implications for non-adoption. 

Coffee brands that fail to recognise the growing demand for sustainable ethos risk alienating eco-conscious consumers. Furthermore, these brands are likely to lose ground to competitors who are fast to adopt sustainable practices. 

In an industry as dynamic as specialty coffee, maintaining a positive brand image and prioritising consumer loyalty are paramount. Embracing sustainability can serve as an important tool for differentiation from the other five roasters down the block. 

That said, Paul Harris of Derelict Coffee Roasters, a New Zealand-based, North Island roaster, warns about the costs of coffee businesses being tricked by greenwashing. “I wholeheartedly believe we need to be conscious about how we interact with the environment and proactively ensure we do it in a positive way,” he says. 

“But jumping into ill-conceived concepts costs money and the environment, a situation where only the packaging company wins,” Paul adds. Studies show that over half of consumers admit to being ‘tricked by greenwashing’ an act in which a company misleads the consumer to believe their product is more sustainable than it is. Therefore, it is essential to conduct thorough research before investing in recyclable or biodegradable packaging.

Brands should cross-check for sustainable qualifications and follow up with any in-depth questions before investing in sustainable coffee bags. Additionally, once a brand has determined its sustainable packaging, they should check with local recycling or composting plants on the correct disposal practices. 

Paul warns of the effects of not disposing of these materials adequately: “Without buy-in from the majority, it gives a warm feeling inside and out as it inadvertently contributes to global warming like a compostable cup in a landfill.”

Driven by consumer demand for sustainability and regulatory pressure to manage single-use plastic waste, coffee businesses are increasingly recognising the importance of integrating environmental considerations into their operations, especially in their packaging. 

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of fully recyclable coffee bags with one layer of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and one of ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH). These function as a barrier to oxygen, while being completely sustainable. 

Our recyclable coffee packaging uses just two layers, compared to the three or four in many coffee bags around the world. This means we use less energy during manufacturing while making the packaging easier for roasters and consumers alike to dispose of sustainably.

Images courtesy of Epoch Chemistry Coffee Company and Derelict Coffee Roasters

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

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Holly Szakal
Holly Szakal

Holly Szakal is a Melbourne-based copy and content writer and is deeply immersed in her city's vibrant specialty coffee culture. She infuses the rich aromas of the specialty coffee scene by delivering compelling narratives on the industry's current events.

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