Why now is the best time to invest in compostable coffee bags

Tori Taylor
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May 1, 2024
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Thanks to improved technology and heightened awareness of their obvious environmental benefits, compostable coffee bags are gaining market share. Notably, the global market for compostable flexible packaging was valued at $1.26 billion in 2023 and is expected to surpass $2.11 billion by 2032. 

Compostable coffee packaging is made from organic matter that can be broken down to produce nutrient-rich compost that leaves no environmentally damaging residue. Beyond this, the bags are sturdy, affordable, and easy to produce, while showcasing a commitment to sustainability.

A recent report found that the majority of consumers perceive compostable packaging as the most sustainable. One of the most important reasons customers tend to prefer compostable packaging is because there’s absolutely no waste involved on their part.

I spoke to Richard Ali from Tigray Coffee Co., and Wilmer Carcamo, the director of Caribe Coffee Co., to learn why now is the best time to switch to compostable coffee bags. 

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Compostable coffee bags: Why make the switch now? 

As consumers become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their coffee habits, brands are adapting to provide more sustainable packaging. Many brands, such as San Francisco Bay Coffee and Oakland Coffee Works, now offer selling compostable single-serving coffee capsules and bags. Other brands, such as Artisan Roast Coffee Company are finding creative ways to reduce organic coffee waste as well. 

For instance, the brand is upcycling spent coffee grounds (SCG) to create marketable products such as body scrubs and hand soaps – all of which come in sustainable packaging. Beyond this, breakthrough developments suggest plastic materials made from spent coffee grounds (SCG) might be used to create genuinely biodegradable coffee bags. These films could replace the plastic used in many everyday products, such as single-use shopping bags. 

In early 2023, members of an intergovernmental political forum consisting of the USA, Japan, Germany, France, the UK, Italy, and Canada, known as the G7, committed to eliminating plastic pollution by 2040. With only a few decades to go, governments are likely to ramp up the crackdown on plastic packaging. 

Many regions are implementing stricter regulations on single-use plastics and non-recyclable materials. Compostable coffee bags can ensure businesses comply with these regulations, avoiding potential fines and legal issues. 

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Will compostable packaging benefit your business?

In places such as Nigeria in West Africa, plastic waste has become a common issue, prompting the government to intervene in recent years. Officials are looking to resolve the country’s reliance on plastic and unclog the rivers and canals that are now littered with thousands of tonnes of waste. Single-use items and polythene bags, also known as ‘nylon’ bags in Nigeria, are the most common plastic waste found in both cities and rural areas.

“All over Abuja, you can see waterways clogged by plastic,” Richard explains. This is why Tigray Coffee Co. has adopted biodegradable plastic alternatives. In doing so, the brand is helping to educate consumers about plastic waste pollution and the long-term effects it can have on their health and the development of the country. 

Tigray Coffee Co. uses high-barrier kraft paper ziplock bags for its coffee packaging, as it is both multi-use and biodegradable. The brand has committed itself to supporting the development and further establishment of more appropriate plastic recycling initiatives. “We understand the need to teach younger generations to become conscious citizens,” Richard says. Furthermore, he believes collaborating with other agents of socialisation, such as traditional institutions and women’s organisations, would benefit an entire community of citizens.

“We are direct importers and distributors of specialty coffee within the UK,” explains Wilmer of Caribe Coffee Co. “Our compostable coffee bags are made from kraft paper with a PLA lining. This way, we can help our customers reduce the level of waste entering landfills.

“We’re planning to extend our range of compostable coffee packaging to include shipping boxes, and eventually switch out all the packaging for our products.” 

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Compostable coffee bags: Sustainable materials to consider

Compostable coffee bags are traditionally made from materials that will, under the right circumstances, break down into their organic components. These components should leave no negative impact on the environment. When it comes to compostable coffee bags, the most popular packaging material options are:

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

Rice paper is made from a plant called “tetrapanax papyrifer”, or the rice paper plant. Rice paper used for packaging is made by blending the rice paper plant with other plant-derived sources, such as bamboo and hemp. This produces a natural pulp that can be stretched, pressed, and rolled into non-fibrous sheets of textured, off-white paper.

In addition to being fully recyclable, rice paper has high tensile and tear strength, and has effective barrier properties when layered with additional packaging materials.

Kraft paper is fully compostable and can be recycled up to seven times. Typically, kraft paper is made from wood pulp. Provided the virgin wood comes from a sustainably managed forest, this material has good environmental credentials. While both rice paper and kraft paper have several environmental benefits, they must be lined with an impermeable barrier when used in coffee packaging. Traditionally, plastics or metal foils have been used to fill this role. However, a fully compostable option is a bioplastic lining, such as PLA.

PLA is made by fermenting carbohydrates from renewable resources such as maize, cornstarch, and sugarcane. It’s also one of the most highly produced bioplastics in the world. PLA has comparable structural and barrier properties to other thermoplastics, like polystyrene and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – without the environmental cost.

To be truly “green”, packaging must be more than simply recyclable or reusable – its entire life needs to be sustainable. According to European Bioplastics standards, compostable materials should meet the following criteria:

  • They must achieve biodegradation within six months
  • The materials must disintegrate to less than 10% of their original mass
  • The materials must have no negative effect on the composting process or leave any traces of heavy metals. 
  • Compostable materials must not impact the agronomic value of the final compost or have any toxic effect on plant growth.

At MTPak Coffee, we offer recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable coffee packaging solutions made from natural sources such as kraft paper, rice paper, and LDPE with an eco-friendly PLA lining. We also give you the freedom to personalise every detail of your packaging, and our design team is always ready to help when needed. 

For more information, contact our team. 

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