How to minimise the environmental effect of green coffee bags

Holly Szakal
April 25, 2024
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Sustainability has become a non-negotiable within the specialty coffee industry. However, to truly make an impact, it must extend from producers, traders, and exporters to coffee roasters and baristas. Research shows that global coffee consumption continues to rise, with a predicted growth of almost 5% in the next 4 years. Obviously, this will also increase the volume of packaging used to transport and store green coffee. 

In recent years, consumers have shifted away from traditional packaging materials, particularly single-use plastic, because they significantly contribute to pollution, waste, and environmental degradation. Recognising this urgent need for change, every step of the specialty coffee supply chain is increasingly looking for sustainable alternatives for green coffee packaging that will also maintain product quality and integrity. 

To better understand the challenges the supply chain faces when it adopts green coffee bags, I spoke to Harry Ko of Bennetts Green Coffee Traders and Lloyd Thom of Campos Coffee

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Sustainable alternatives for green coffee packaging

More coffee roasters are using recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable materials in their retail coffee packaging, as well as using more recyclable or reusable takeaway coffee cups. To add to this, more sustainable practices are being implemented across coffee farms, helping to reduce overall carbon emissions in the supply chain.

As a result, minimising the carbon footprint of green coffee storage – while still focusing on the preservation of freshness – is becoming a key topic. Ultimately, this means green coffee traders and buyers are focusing on finding sustainable packaging options. These alternatives are manufactured to prioritise eco-friendliness, resource efficiency, and circularity. Beyond this, they’re designed to minimise environmental harm while maintaining product quality and integrity. 

The majority of green coffee bags are made from polyethylene (PE). The material is extremely lightweight, flexible, and durable while being highly resistant to friction and elements such as the sun, electricity, and corrosion. While PE is highly recyclable and is often melted down for reuse, it is not biodegradable, so it often ends up in landfills. 

This is why bio-based PE packaging is growing in popularity. The material contains 100% renewable resources such as sugar cane, corn, rice, potatoes, wheat, and vegetable oil. It is also food-safe and recyclable. 

Another sustainable alternative gaining traction in the coffee industry is bulk bags, also known as flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBCs) or “big bags.” These large, durable bags are designed for the efficient transportation and storage of large quantities of coffee beans, reducing the need for multiple smaller bags and minimising packaging waste. 

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The environmental impact of traditional green coffee packaging

The lifecycle of single-use plastics for storing and transporting green coffee has shown increased strain on natural resources. Furthermore, they pose long-term threats to delicate ecosystems and human health. However, this doesn’t stop the demand for coffee, which continues to rise. A study by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment suggests we will need 25% more coffee by 2030. But whether the industry can fulfil this increasing demand with its current supply chain model is in doubt.

Those across the supply chain now must confront the environmental consequences of traditional packaging materials and adapt to alternative solutions. The widespread environmental implications that traditional packaging for green coffee has on the environment are profound and multifaceted. 

Traditional plastic bags are usually derived from non-renewable fossil fuels and require energy-intensive manufacturing processes. After use, these bags are often found polluting landfills or oceans, where they can take centuries to break down adequately and release harmful chemicals and microplastics into the environment.

From extraction and production to distribution and disposal, the impact of traditional green coffee packaging is considerable and does not align with the modern consumer expectations of today. However, with the mass quantities of coffee required for global transportation, how can the supply chain meet demand without significantly increasing its carbon footprint?

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Factors to consider when investing in hermetic coffee bags

The 2022 Australian Brewers Cup Champion and Sales Support at Bennetts Green Coffee Traders, Harry Ko, provides valuable insights into the practical considerations surrounding green coffee packaging. 

“If you’re a large coffee roaster, consider using 1,000kg bulk bags to reduce packaging resources,” he advises. “For smaller operations, opt for jute or hessian bagged coffee, as green beans maintain freshness for 2-3 months when stored properly. For micro-lots and premium coffees, I suggest you use plastic liners to prolong freshness and explore recycling options to minimise environmental impact.”

While green coffee bags offer exceptional, sustainably driven alternatives to green coffee packaging, it’s essential to consider a few extra factors. These factors include ensuring the green coffee bags provide adequate barrier protection, moisture control, durability, transportation efficiency, and end-of-life disposal considerations.

Crucial for preserving the quality and freshness of green coffee beans during storage and transportation, barrier protection is essential to protect the contents inside from exposure to oxygen, moisture, light, and pests. Therefore, ensure the sustainable packaging materials have adequate barrier properties to prevent oxidation and deterioration while allowing for proper ventilation and gas exchange to maintain bean quality.

As coffee producers cannot control the elements during transportation, moisture control is another crucial factor to consider when selecting hermetic coffee bags. This is especially important in humid or tropical climates, as moist weather can accelerate degradation and promote unwanted mould growth. It’s critical to select sustainable packaging materials that offer good moisture absorption to help regulate humidity levels internally. 

Last, durability is an essential key factor for ensuring the safe and efficient transportation and storage of green coffee beans. Ensure the materials used are sturdy and robust enough to withstand handling, stacking, and transportation without tearing or erupting. 

Lloyd Thom, Green Bean Buyer at Campos Coffee, underscores the importance of sturdy bulk bags for transportation efficiency. He notes that “it is critical that bulk bags are sturdy, especially around the straps used to move them, so we have to ensure that the bags being sent are of high quality.

“Otherwise, the only drawback is that they are not available in every supply chain,” he adds.  “We’ve found the benefits to be many and the drawbacks to be few, so we would love to see the majority of our coffees transported in this highly efficient way while we wait and see what new developments occur in this space.”

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of green coffee packaging solutions specifically designed to protect your coffee and preserve flavour while reducing your business’s carbon footprint. Our range of hermetic green coffee packaging is made using high-strength PE and boasts superior water and air properties. More so, they can keep your products fresh without the help of pesticides or insecticides for over a year.

For more information, 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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