Branding compostable coffee cups: Which inks are best? 

Maira Kanai-Nasir
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May 21, 2024
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For decades, takeaway coffee cups were lauded for their convenience and role in bolstering coffee shop revenue streams. Custom coffee cups, in particular, serve as walking advertisements, allowing brands to extend their identity. From every element of design, custom takeaway cups can help shape consumers’ perceptions of a brand. In more recent years, however, the environmental impact of takeaway cups has been thrust into the spotlight. 

Fortunately, over time, more eco-friendly alternatives, such as compostable coffee cups, have become widely accessible. Compostable cups have become a popular option for businesses looking to reduce their environmental impact. Notably, research shows the global compostable packaging market is projected to reach $32.43 billion by 2028. 

But how can businesses brand their compostable cups in the most sustainable way possible? 

To learn more about using eco-friendly inks on compostable coffee cups, I spoke to Saskia Blum, the director at Batch Baby.

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Customising compostable coffee cups: Sustainable alternatives to traditional inks

For thousands of years, printing inks have been used for all kinds of purposes, from cave decorations and ancient manuscripts, to glossy magazines and broadsheet newspapers. However, in recent years, the sustainability of certain types of ink used in product packaging has been called into question.

One of the main issues is the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are derived from petroleum fuels, hydraulic fluids, paint thinners, and dry cleaning agents that have a high vapour pressure and low water solubility. Printing inks and coatings used in packaging typically contain VOCs in varying amounts depending on the type of ink, the drying and printing process, the substrate, and various end-use requirements. 

With the exception of water-based inks, when the wet ink dries on the printed surface, nearly all the weight lost is made up of VOCs. When VOCs and nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere react in the presence of sunlight, they produce ground-level ozone. This is a major component of urban smog, which can negatively impact the environment and present a hazard to people’s health.

Environmentally friendly inks are made from renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable resources. The organic compounds are not only renewable but can also be safely disposed of since they quickly degrade and return to nature.

Water-based inks: Often regarded as one of the most environmentally friendly printer inks available, water-based alternatives are made of polyurethanes and hybrid acrylic resins and use water as the primary solvent for carrying solid pigments. That said, it’s important to note that water-based inks are more expensive than other sustainable inks.

Soy or vegetable-based inks: These inks use stable vegetable sources such as canola, China wood, linseed, castor, soy, and safflower. They have good wetting properties and the ability to carry solid pigments. Soy-based inks are one of the most popular choices among vegetable inks because of their high performance, low VOC emissions, and cost-effectiveness. 

Ultraviolet (UV) inks: These options contain monomers and initiators that polymerize into a hard film after exposure to UV light. The inks dry rapidly and emit 99.5% fewer VOCs. Additionally, unlike traditional volatile inks, curable inks do not require extra coatings or protectants.

Algae inks: These use algae cells to make carbon black pigments. This means the inks contain no heavy metals or VOCs. Algae inks are supposed to reduce carbon emissions by up to 200% and have a negative carbon footprint

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Does the ink on your compostable coffee cups really matter?

Businesses eager to adopt sustainable practices have embraced sustainable items such as compostable cups. Batch Baby is a specialty coffee shop in De Beauvoir, Hackney. Director Saskia notes that there has been an increase in access to compostable and recyclable materials. 

“It’s important as a business or café owner to be as sustainable as possible,” she says. This is where Batch Baby leads by example. “We never considered using anything other than compostable products,” Saskia adds.

Customising compostable coffee cups with sustainable inks or through digital printing can help educate consumers about sustainability. In turn, this can ensure your takeaway coffee cups are composted properly and do not contribute to pollution. 

It’s important to note that sustainable alternatives, such as water-based inks, tend to cost more than solvent-based inks. This is because of the time it takes for them to dry and the number of facilities that are available to produce them. However, as ink makes up such a small percentage of the overall volume of takeaway coffee cups, the cost increase per item is still relatively small. Alternatively, coffee roasters can customise their compostable cups to include less ink by opting for a more minimalist design.

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Branding compostable coffee cups: Additional considerations

It’s also important to consider how the coffee cups will be disposed of once empty. DTLA Print explains that water-based inks are only eco-friendly when they are used and disposed of in a responsible manner. They add that the majority of long term ecological damage of screen printing is a result of the waste in cleanup, rather than the process or the chemicals.

For that reason, brands should include information on their compostable coffee cups about how consumers can correctly dispose of them. Whether recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable, it’s important to make it as clear as possible to avoid any confusion. 

At MTPak Coffee, we have years of experience and industry knowledge, allowing us to deliver coffee shop owners and specialty coffee roasters with the right disposable coffee cups. All of our takeaway cups are made from high-quality printable materials that are kind to the environment.

Our range of sustainable takeaway cups is made from recyclable materials such as bamboo fibre or kraft paper with an environmentally friendly PLA lining. We also offer recyclable plastic cups made from PET. All our cups are available in different sizes: 4 oz, 8 oz, 16 oz, 12 oz, and 24 oz. 

Our takeaway cups are strong, waterproof, lightweight, and come in 100% compostable options, as well as recyclable options. Our cups can be custom-designed using innovative digital printing technology to feature your brand logo or recycling instructions. Our use of digital printing means we offer customers a quick turnaround and shipping time. This allows us to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material is used.

Brand your compostable coffee cups today! Reach out to our team. 

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Maira Kanai-Nasir
Maira Kanai-Nasir

Discovering specialty coffee whilst working in Australia, Maira has previously worked in Specialty Coffee as a trainer and coffee product buyer for many years. She currently resides in Dubai, UAE working as a specialty coffee writer, with a strong passion for all things coffee.

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