How long does it take for biodegradable kraft paper coffee bags to break down?

Nuvin Sithanen
July 3, 2024
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As the demand for sustainable product packaging increases, businesses around the world are switching back to paper-based alternatives to appeal to eco-conscious customers and stem the tide of plastic pollution. Notably, the global paper and paperboard packaging market is expected to exceed $501.08 billion by 2029. 

Within the specialty coffee market, sustainable alternatives, such as kraft paper coffee bags, fit the bill perfectly. These bags are sustainable, affordable, and relatively easy to recycle, making them a popular option for the majority of brands. 

A 2023 survey by McKinsey & Company found that recycling is extremely common across consumer groups, while home composting is most popular among Gen Z. That said, the same survey states there is a long-standing gap in consumer knowledge and education on sustainability more broadly, including recycling and compostable products.

It’s clear that educating consumers about sustainable coffee bags is not just important but essential. But, how long does it take for kraft paper coffee bags to break down? And how can brands effectively convey this information to consumers? By understanding and spreading this knowledge, consumers can make informed choices and contribute to a sustainable future.

Read on as Richard Ali, the founder and CEO of Tigray Coffee, shares his thoughts. 

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Breaking down biodegradable kraft paper coffee bags

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. Notably, the global market value of biodegradable packaging is expected to reach $810 billion by 2032. 

Notably, compostable materials are also biodegradable. However, it is important to note only materials that break down harmlessly and without harming the environment can be considered compostable. 

When left untreated, kraft paper is one of the easiest materials in the world to recycle. In most places, it can be disposed of at home along with corrugated cardboard, where it will be collected and taken to a recycling facility. Here, it is sorted to ensure all impurities and toxins are properly removed before being taken to a mill, where the recycling process begins.

Recycling kraft paper packaging involves several steps, including pulping, cleaning, screening, deinking, dispersion, kneading, bleaching, water treatment, and waste handling. At the end of the recycling process, new paper is produced. For most kraft paper products, this can be done up to seven times.

Problems with recycling kraft paper only tend to occur when it has more than one layer or if the kraft paper packaging is contaminated with food, dirt, or grease. For example, if it has an aluminium interior, this must be separated before it can be recycled, which is a process that not all facilities have the equipment to handle.

An alternative to recycling kraft paper is to send it to a composting facility. As it is made of long virgin maritime pine fibers, it is completely organic when left unbleached or when laminated with other compostable materials, such as polylactic acid (PLA).

When Richard was choosing coffee bags forTigray Coffee in Abuja, Nigeria, he faced several challenges. He explains that as a business person, “the issue of the environment is at the front of my consciousness. Across Abuja, I see waterways clogged by plastic.” 

Notably, Abuja has very limited recycling facilities, making recyclable bags a poor choice for the community. Richard has addressed these issues by investing in PLA-lined kraft paper coffee bags. He explains the brand wanted eco-friendly packaging that was both biodegradable and multiple-use. 

“The idea is for people to love their packaging and then to put other things in it,” he says. Customers of Tigray Coffee can reuse the bags for ginger and other spices. Then, they can be composted or incinerated when they become too worn. 

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Bleached versus natural kraft paper coffee bags

When investing in kraft paper coffee bags, brands have the choice between white (bleached) or brown (unbleached) paper. The main difference between bleached and unbleached kraft paper is its appearance.

Unbleached kraft paper does not undergo chemical processing and remains brown in colour. When left in its unbleached form, it is completely compostable, making it an eco-friendly choice for roasters and cafe owners. However, unbleached kraft paper has limited resistance to oil and moisture. As a result, an additional lining or coating is usually required to be impermeable to these substances. 

To produce uniform white paper suitable for full colour printing, manufacturers reduce the colour tint and purity of paper pulp through bleaching. Known as delignification bleaching, this process uses oxides such as chlorine and ozone or bleaching agents like chlorine dioxide and hydrogen peroxide. A common misconception is that the bleaching process makes kraft paper less sustainable and may have negative environmental effects. However, depending on the chemicals used to process it, bleached kraft paper can also be compostable.

Modern paper manufacturers now use oxygen, ozone, or hydrogen peroxide to bleach the paper. This produces fewer toxic and carcinogenic compounds that could damage the environment. Like brown kraft paper, it will also require a lining to be completely resistant to water and oil.

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Investing in kraft paper coffee bags: What to consider

Consumers need to be aware of how to dispose of biodegradable packaging correctly to maximise its benefits. This is vital to reducing waste and minimising the impact on the environment. It’s also why Tigray Coffee Co. 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. He adds that further measures throughout the supply chain and day-to-day café activities would also need to become more widely exercised. “Certifications are always a good guide. In our industry, there are certifications such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which guarantee the paper is sourced from sustainably grown forests.”

MTPak Coffee’s biodegradable packaging goes a long way to providing a solution to this pressing issue. And, 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 coffee bags are certified by Din Certco in complete compliance with the European certification standard (EN 13432). Our packaging also proudly carries 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 Tigray Coffee

Invest in your biodegradable kraft paper coffee bags today!

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Nuvin Sithanen
Nuvin Sithanen

Nuvin is a specialty coffee professional with experience in a variety of sectors in the industry, including green coffee sourcing and coffee equipment distribution. He is actively involved in the South African coffee industry, providing coffee beans and equipment to both home baristas and businesses.

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