Where can consumers dispose of your biodegradable coffee bags?

Holly Szakal
May 10, 2024
biodegradable coffee bags, biodegradable coffee packaging, coffee bags, coffee packaging, disposing of biodegradable coffee bags

Environmental awareness is more than a trend: it’s become embedded in the minds, expectations, and buying activities of the modern consumer. The demand for sustainability has encouraged industries across the board to rethink product packaging. Within specialty coffee, more consumers are expecting to see recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable coffee bags. 

However, the journey towards a greener future doesn’t start and end with sustainable coffee bags. It must also ensure that bags are properly disposed of after they are sold to reduce their overall environmental impact. 

I spoke with Nathan Slevin, Global Project Executive in Sustainability at Allpress Espresso, and Dr. Alexis Pantziaros, Managing Director at Coffe-Eco, about how biodegradable coffee bags break down. The pair also shared insight into responsible disposal methods and innovative strategies for brands looking to foster a culture of sustainability among consumers. 

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Disposing of biodegradable coffee bags

Biodegradable coffee packaging presents many distinct advantages over its traditional plastic counterparts. Notably, these bags mitigate reliance on finite fossil fuels, which reduces the carbon footprint associated with the coffee supply chain. Additionally, the fact that they break down into non-toxic components helps to address concerns about environmental pollution. 

Beyond this, biodegradable coffee bags perform similarly to traditional plastic bags. They are flexible, durable, and offer barrier protection against moisture and oxygen to ensure that quality and freshness are preserved during storage and transportation. 

However, adopting biodegradable coffee packaging does come with a few challenges, such as limited access to industrial composting facilities and confusion over disposal. 

Allpress Espresso is a major coffee roaster in Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. Nathan has worked with the brand for over six years. He shares some information about disposing of biodegradable packaging. 

“It’s always best for consumers to check with their local council for the best disposal method,” he advises. “Some councils have commercial composting facilities that will accept biodegradable material, but this is not consistent from council to council. It’s worth looking into because your area might have better facilities, which means the bag can be kept out of general use.

“Of course, we want to avoid landfills as much as possible; however, that can sometimes be the best option, depending on what facilities are available in your area,” Nathan adds. “If you do have access to commercial composting, remember to remove [any] plastic before disposal.” 

Dr. Alexis Pantziaros, the CEO and co-founder at Coffe-Eco, explains how compostable bags specifically need to be disposed of. It’s important to note that all compostable products are biodegradable, but biodegradable products are not always compostable. The main difference is that compostable products have undergone strict testing to ensure that they break down within a specific time frame and do not release anything harmful into the environment.

“It’s important to note that before disposing of these bags, consumers should first check if their local municipality accepts compostable plastics in their green waste collection. If they do, then consumers can dispose of their compostable coffee bags in their bio-waste bins,” he says.

For those without access to industrial composting, Alexis recommends contacting local waste management providers to find a drop-off location that accepts compostable items. 

“Alternatively, participating in community composting programmes can also be a viable solution,” he adds. 

biodegradable coffee bags, biodegradable coffee packaging, coffee bags, coffee packaging, disposing of biodegradable coffee bags

Understanding how biodegradable coffee bags break down

Essentially, biodegradable packaging is made from materials that will eventually break down into smaller particles. Biodegradable packaging materials can be made from several different sources, including pulp and cornstarch. 

One of the most popular biodegradable materials for packaging roasted coffee is kraft paper. However, while it is strong and environmentally friendly, it is not as effective at preserving freshness as other materials. Hence, it tends to be favoured by specialty coffee roasters who distribute their coffee to consumers in smaller batches. 

Biodegradable plastics, or bioplastics, are also a popular material for packaging. They have been offered as an eco-friendly alternative to conventional plastics since the 1980s. Polylactic acid (PLA) is one of the most common bioplastics found in coffee packaging because it is flexible and has a long shelf life. It is made from starches derived from corn sugar, potatoes, and sugar cane.

Technically, many products can be considered biodegradable, as the only prerequisite is that they degrade. However, to be officially labelled as biodegradable in accordance with ISO 14855-1, 90% of a product must break down within six months.

Unlike traditional plastics, biodegradable materials leave behind no harmful residues, offering a sustainable end-of-life solution. Once these bags have fulfilled their intended purpose of storing and transporting coffee, the crucial last step of biodegradation comes into play. However, not all consumers know how to properly dispose of biodegradable coffee bags.

Technically, biodegradable materials will break down in most environments after an indeterminate period of time. Ideally, these bags should be directed to suitable industrial facilities, which create a suitable environment for biodegradation. 

For instance, in commercial composting facilities, microorganisms break down the material into organic matter, carbon dioxide, and water over weeks to months. This process leaves behind compost that can enrich soil and support plant growth.

Because of a lack of consumer knowledge, many biodegradable coffee bags end up in an incorrect waste disposal stream, where they fail to decompose efficiently and may contaminate recycling processes.

Nathan believes consumers are not sufficiently aware of what is biodegradable and how to dispose of it. “There is too much inconsistency across local and state governments in terms of infrastructure to support the processing of these materials, and there are not enough end users to buy this material once it has been composted,” he says. 

biodegradable coffee bags, biodegradable coffee packaging, coffee bags, coffee packaging, disposing of biodegradable coffee bags

Ensuring consumers are educated

Empowering consumers to make environmentally conscious choices requires innovative strategies that go beyond mere education. Brands play a pivotal role in fostering a culture of sustainability. Several business owners have become incredibly creative in how they communicate disposal methods to consumers to promote a circular economy. 

For example, Allpress Espresso has teamed up with Planet Ark for the Podcycle trial, introducing a collection scheme for used coffee capsules. In the brand Australian market, these capsules can be returned to either the Sydney or Melbourne roastery. Regardless of brand, customers can return any aluminium or plastic capsules. 

The coffee grinds collected will be composted, while the aluminium or plastic will be recycled for use in other products.

Moreover, implementing bag return loyalty programmes incentivises consumers to return used bags for proper disposal or recycling. This is a highly effective way to close the loop on sustainable waste management practices.

“Perhaps consider partnering with wholesale customers to provide bulk collections of bags that can be collected when delivering coffee. [Offer] a discount when customers return their bags, and [provide] customers with options to fill up their own containers or canisters to reduce bags,” Nathan recommends.

At MTPak Coffee, our biodegradable packaging goes a long way toward solving this pressing issue. With 53% of European consumers stating that they are concerned about the current level of plastic waste, it should have widespread appeal to your customers.

Our biodegradable packaging is certified by Din Certco in complete compliance with the European certification standard (EN 13432). Our coffee bags also proudly carry the Seedling logo, a registered trademark owned by European Bioplastics. This logo communicates that a product is certified industrially compostable by their standards.

Images courtesy of Allpress Espresso

Learn more about biodegradable coffee bags by getting in touch with 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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