Why your brand needs recyclable coffee bags

Tori Taylor
March 29, 2024
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Research by ING Bank reveals the amount of packaging waste will soon outstrip population growth. Notably, the volume of materials used for consumer goods in the US and Europe is growing by 1.5% annually. Countries such as Asia, Africa, and Latin America are also expected to exceed previous growth volumes.

Furthermore, plastics alone are predicted to account for one-third of all packaging waste by 2040. The growing plastic waste crisis has increased the demand for sustainable alternatives, such as recyclable coffee bags and compostable takeaway cups. 

That said, these eco-friendly packaging alternatives may not be enough to stand out in an increasingly competitive market. To ensure their products align with eco-conscious consumers, more businesses are investing in coffee bags that are 100% recyclable, from the degassing valve to the resealable zipper.

To learn more about how this is done, I spoke to Andy Newbom, the cofounder of Torque Coffees, and Clara Malmros of Decadent Decaf Coffee Co. 

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Accepting that there is a ‘recycling problem’

In order for something to qualify as “recyclable” the material must be capable of being used again – either for the same purpose or for a new product. The aim is to reduce the consumption of raw materials, thereby reducing energy consumption, and air and water pollution. It also offers a sustainable solution to regular waste streams by lowering input into municipal landfills.

Businesses can significantly reduce their environmental footprint by using recyclable, biodegradable, or renewable materials. Recyclable materials include glass, metals such as aluminium, kraft paper, bagasse paper, corrugated cardboard, and more recently, certain plastics known as bioplastics. The term ‘bioplastic’ covers a broad spectrum of materials. It can refer to materials that are at least partially made from natural and non-fossil components and are biodegradable.

There are many types of bioplastic available, such as the versatile packaging material, polylactic acid (PLA) was first introduced in 2001. It is made by fermenting carbohydrates from renewable sources such as maize, cornflour and sugar cane. PLA has since become a widely used and successful packaging material thanks to its versatility, low production costs, and environmental credentials. 

However, it is not always clear when a material is recyclable. It’s challenging to decipher symbols on plastic packaging and determine which materials can be recycled at local facilities. A recent study found 55% of customers admitted to being confused over which materials are recyclable. 

More so, over half of the participants said it’s easier to throw the packaging in the bin instead of trying to figure out if it could be recycled. In Europe, many customers admit to being unsure of whether materials must be separated before disposal. Additionally, they were not sure if these materials had to be cleaned before recycling. Overall, a lack of clear disposal information seems to be at the root of the recycling problem. 

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The importance of recyclable coffee bags

Clara Malmros Mitromaras, the sales manager at Decadent Decaf Coffee Co. in the UK says the brand uses coffee bags made from polyethylene (PE) number 4. “All of our packaging is now made from recyclable materials. We chose to use this material as it is easy to recycle in our areas, and it is an effective, airtight material that keeps the coffee from going stale.”

Consumers can determine whether something is recyclable by searching for the universal recycling symbol: a triangle made up of three arrows looping back on themselves in a clockwise direction. This symbol indicates that a product can be recycled, however, it does not denote whether it has been produced from recycled materials. Occasionally, the symbol will feature a percentage in the middle, which signifies how much of the product is derived from recycled materials.

Certifications are a highly effective way to inform consumers their coffee bags are recyclable. For instance, the ‘Mobius loop’ indicates the packaging is recyclable, while the ‘Green Dot’ signifies to the consumer that the roaster has made a financial contribution towards recycling efforts. 

It’s important to remember that “many customers expect more than just the coffee bag to be recyclable,” explains Clara, who is also the founder and master coffee taster at The Little Bean Co. “They expect quality, durability and those little extras, such as a resealable zipper, to keep the coffee fresh.

“Now that there are great options for recyclable bags, which still keep the coffee fresh, there really is no excuse,” she adds. And if you don’t have the capital to invest in branded bags, then most coffee bag suppliers offer stock coffee bags made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE #4) on which you can apply labels.”

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Taking sustainable coffee packaging one step further

Torque Coffee has combined its retail coffee box and shipping box into a straightforward package to reduce materials by 50%. “We have always been obsessed with reducing waste, improving efficiency, and reducing our negative environmental impact,” explains Andy, who has worked across several facets of the specialty coffee industry.

“We designed our packaging from the ground up specifically for e-commerce and shipping to use 100% recycled paper products.” The brand uses no stickers or tape, investing only in compostable shipping labels that are easy to recycle or for consumers to compost at home. Essentially, the brand’s subscription boxes comprise a coffee box, an inner coffee bag, and a compostable shipping label. By stripping it down to the bare essentials, Torque Coffee offers a subscription box that is 100% plastic-free, 100% plant-based, and 100% home-compostable.

Beyond this, the brand’s coffee bags are also plastic-free, plant-based, fully biodegradable, and compostable, from the one-way valve to the reclosable zipper and label.

For Torque Coffee, the reduction in packaging allowed the brand to lower the cost of coffee shipments by $.25. “This means we were able to pay our farmers that extra $.25 a lb,” Andy explains. “Immediately after launching our coffee box, we were able to buy our first African coffees and pay the producers an extra  $.75 a lb on top of what they were already paid for their coffee.” 

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.

For more information on recyclable coffee bags, contact our team

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