From sustainable coffee bags to solar-powered roasting: Tribe Coffee 

Nuvin Sithanen
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March 27, 2024
coffee bags, coffee packaging, sustainable coffee bags, sustainable coffee packaging, paper tubes, Tribe Coffee Roasting

In addition to using sustainable coffee bags, Cape Town-based Tribe Coffee recycles all the plastic used at the roastery. Notably, the brand’s commitment to sustainability extends throughout its operations, from sourcing the coffee to roasting it. As a finalist for the 2023 Circular Economy Grant, Christopher Gaag, Director of Tribe Coffee Roasting, explains why the brand transitioned to solar power. 

Tribe Coffee was founded on the idea that everyone deserves the luxury of “high-end” quality coffee at a price they can afford. The brand launched in 2010 and has been supplying consumers across the Western Cape in South Africa with high-quality, ethically sourced coffee. 

Doing so, however, has been a rollercoaster. Since 2007, South Africa has experienced multiple periods of “loadshedding” as the country’s demand for electricity exceeds its ability to supply it. The term “loadshedding” is used to describe the deliberate, temporary reduction of electrical power in a distribution network. 

“These planned power outages disrupt production and impact the quality of the roast,” Christopher explains. “Solar power ensures consistent roasting and eliminates our reliance on non-renewable energy sources.” 

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The benefits of using solar power to roast coffee 

Over the last few decades, research shows that climate change has increased global average temperatures and altered rain patterns around the world. Naturally, this has a dramatic impact on coffee production and the people who work within the sector.

Tribe Coffee Roasting understands the long-term consequences of climate change, particularly in its drought-stricken region. “The Western Cape water crisis is a stark reminder for businesses to do their part,” Christopher says. Solar power is just one step closer to running a sustainable, impactful coffee business. 

Solar energy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change as it is a renewable source of power. Several life-cycle assessments clearly demonstrate that solar power has a smaller carbon footprint from “cradle-to-grave” than fossil fuels.

Beyond the environmental benefits, solar power offers a crucial advantage for Tribe: consistency. Roasting coffee is a delicate dance between temperature, time, and bean origin. Inconsistent heat can drastically alter the final flavour profile. Power interruptions during bouts of “loadshedding” can impede this delicate process. 

“A roaster needs to preheat and cool down,” Christopher explains. “These interruptions disrupt the roasting cycle and negatively impact the final product.” Solar power eliminates this uncertainty. By making the switch, Tribe can rely on a steady stream of clean energy, ensuring each batch of coffee receives the precise roasting profile it deserves. This translates to a reliable and harmonious product for customers while eliminating waste caused by inconsistent roasts. 

The environmental benefits are equally compelling. South Africa’s power grid relies heavily on coal, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. By switching to solar, Tribe is minimising its carbon footprint and actively contributing to a cleaner future. 

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Recyclable coffee bags: Extending sustainability to consumers

In addition to offering recyclable coffee bags made with kraft paper, Tribe Coffee has also invested in sturdy, recyclable paper tubes. Each is emblazoned with an eye-catching wrap-around label that depicts the coffee’s name and flavour notes. 

Paper tubes comprise recycled paper or paperboard sheet layers that are wound together to form strong, hollow cylindrical shapes. The high-end and unique look of custom paper tubes can help elevate a brand to look more luxurious. Additionally, cylinder packaging can make the unboxing experience more exciting for the consumer, especially when they are branded on the exterior. 

Paper cylinders are a rigid alternative to coffee bags, reducing the risk of dents or damage during transit. Plus, they are eco-friendly as they are biodegradable and recyclable, saving on energy use and resources. 

“We only use recycled boxes to send coffee to our customers,” Christopher says. “And we recycle all the plastic used at our roastery. Our partners from Mountain Falls collect the plastic and recycle it into plastic water bottles.” Essentially, a plastic bag used at the Tribe roastery is collected, cleaned, and transformed into a brand new plastic bottle. This bottle eventually finds its way to a recycling centre, where it’s reborn into another useful product. This type of circular economy minimises waste and ensures valuable resources stay in use for longer. 

“We also use kraft paper coffee bags with tin ties so our customers can recycle them,” Christopher adds. He explains that while some of the brand’s coffee packaging, such as its sachets, is biodegradable, it would prefer to use 100% biodegradable coffee bags. 

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Biodegradable coffee bags: Understanding the benefits

According to a report by the United Nations (UN), unless consumption and waste management habits undergo rapid change, the planet could accumulate almost 12 billion metric tonnes of plastic waste by 2050. Biodegradable packaging has become a popular option among coffee roasters because of its sustainability, affordability, and overall durability. 

That said, striking the perfect balance between sustainability and customer experience is key. “We understand convenience is important,” says Christopher. “We feel that our customers shouldn’t be burdened by complex recycling processes.”

More importantly, Tribe Coffee Roasting recognises that, while sustainability is important, it should never overshadow quality. “Customers prioritise a great cup of coffee,” Christopher acknowledges. “But knowing their purchase supports a sustainable business adds a feel-good factor.” 

Coffee businesses worldwide have been focusing on creating a more sustainable, circular economy. They’ve done this by replacing single-use plastics with “greener” solutions, such as compostable, recyclable, or biodegradable coffee packaging. However, questions remain over which is the most sustainable form of packaging: compostable, recyclable, or biodegradable coffee bags. Many believe it boils down to where the business is located and what disposal facilities are available. 

At MTPak Coffee, we understand the importance of looking after not only the world’s forests but the entire planet for future generations. As such, we can guarantee that all our paper-based coffee packaging, including our kraft paper bags, are from forests that have been certified by the FSC.

Furthermore, by switching to biodegradable materials for your packaging, whether it’s kraft paper, rice paper or PLA, you are, in effect, showcasing your commitment to environmental sustainability to your consumers. It also demonstrates an ability to keep abreast of new trends, giving people confidence and trust in the quality of your product.

MTPak Coffee’s biodegradable coffee packaging is certified by Din Certco in compliance with the European certification standard (EN 13432). It also carries the Seedling logo. Our biodegradable coffee bags are made from the following:

  • Kraft paper
  • Polylactic acid (PLA)
  • Rice paper

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

Images courtesy of Tribe Coffee Roasting.

Read our exclusive interview with Silverskin Coffee Roasters about the brand’s unique coffee cylinders, or dive into our interview with Richard Ali, the founder of Nigeria’s Tigray Coffee Co. about their biodegradable coffee bags

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