How fast will my rice paper coffee bags decompose? 

Tori Taylor
July 9, 2024
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Paper-based packaging is one of the oldest forms of food packaging. Although plastic packaging has dominated the market over the last few decades, the tide is once again turning in favour of more eco-friendly materials. Notably, the global paper and paperboard container and packaging market is poised to reach $463.3 billion by 2028

Alongside kraft paper, rice paper coffee bags are becoming a popular sustainable alternative to plastic packaging. When accompanied by linings, resealable zippers, and degassing valves, these materials not only preserve the distinct characteristics of the coffee but also contribute to a more sustainable future. However, it’s crucial to note that when left untreated or unlined, the very qualities that make these materials compostable or biodegradable may accelerate coffee ageing, potentially making it unpleasant to drink.

Therefore, many business owners wonder how rice paper holds up during transport and over long-term storage. So, how fast will rice paper coffee bags decompose?

Read on as Ben Sibley of Assembly Coffee UK shares his thoughts on the durability of rice paper coffee bags in various environmental conditions.

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Understanding the durability of rice paper coffee bags

Typically, there are two types of rice paper. Edible rice paper, for instance, is made with rice and often includes tapioca, potato, and other ingredients. Rice paper used for packaging, on the other hand, is made from a shrub called Tetrapanax papyrifer, or the rice-paper plant. Packaging made from this plant may also include mulberry, hemp, bamboo, or rice straw pulp.

Traditionally, rice paper is made by soaking and cleaning a plant’s fibres, bark, and pith in water. The pulp is then stretched, pressed, rolled between screens, and cut to size, creating a non-fibrous sheet of textured, off-white paper. A cost-effective, highly accessible, and mass-produced version of rice paper is created by mechanically processing renewable resources, such as quintan tree bark and bamboo. This is the rice paper used in coffee packaging today.

Rice paper coffee bags are flexible, strong, and somewhat translucent. They are often layered to make them more opaque and enhance their strength and protective qualities. Rice paper coffee bags are also frequently lined with aluminium to further protect the coffee from moisture, UV rays, and oxidation. However, this drastically reduces their recycling potential.

While most compostable materials have a long shelf life, it’s important to note that they still have a shorter life span than plastics. Under hot and humid conditions, these materials will rapidly lose effectiveness. As such, they are better recommended for those who use up coffee beans or grounds quickly in a short amount of time.

Rice paper coffee bags are also landfill-friendly. This means that natural bacteria can break them down in very little time. Additionally, the decomposition process won’t generate any carbon dioxide, which lowers the materials’ carbon footprint.

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Are rice paper coffee bags the best option for your brand? 

Assembly Coffee has stores across London’s most well-coffee-versed boroughs and caters to an entire wholesale market. Ben has worked as a brand manager for over two years and explains the Assembly’s choice to invest in rice paper coffee bags. 

“Coffee is historically interpreted as strict and sometimes quite sterile,” he says. “We were looking for a material that could feel refined and premium but also offered texture, transparency, and a reminder of coffee’s connection to the natural world—that it’s handmade, perishable, and [essentially,] a food product.”

He adds that Assembly partnered with MTPak Coffee to create rice paper coffee bags backed with a food-safe lining. “These bags achieve the structural integrity we desired for both brand and function, but we felt the frayed threads and organic texture perfectly achieved this other aspect we wanted to incorporate.”

Rice paper coffee bags are lightweight, which means they often come with lower shipping costs. They also offer a unique, natural look, which effortlessly enhances branding and product appeal, bringing consumers back to the coffee beans’ natural roots. 

“It’s easy to make a box or jar feel premium, and it’s easy to create a packaging system that links to traditional queues of luxury,” says Ben. “In our experience, however, this inhibits the rate of sale in retail. This is the insight we were working on and wanted to make as clear as possible, using the transparency of rice paper and the dimensions of a regular coffee bag to highlight that the product is coffee and not garments, electronics, or cosmetics. The result is that both online and offline, we’ve seen a definite increase in the rate of sales.”

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Is there a downside to rice paper coffee bags? 

Unfortunately, rice paper alone has limited protection against certain elements. They can’t adequately preserve a coffee’s quality for long periods of time unless lined with another material or coated for added protection. As durability is a concern, the research phase of finding the right rice paper coffee bags is crucial and can be quite time-consuming. 

Additionally, when left untreated, rice paper coffee bags can be fragile and prone to tearing if not handled carefully. Beyond this, the ink used on rice paper may smudge or fade over time. While adding additional layers and coating to rice paper doesn’t negate its eco-friendliness, it can make it more difficult to recycle or biodegrade, depending on the materials used. 

If this is the case, brands might consider offering a bag collection programme or customising their packaging to include instructions on how customers can correctly dispose of their empty pouches.

Rice paper might be one of the world’s oldest materials, but it continues to be a useful option in today’s market. It’s cost-effective, comes from a renewable source, and offers good flexibility and strength.

AT MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options made from renewable materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining, all of which minimise waste and contribute to a circular economy.

Our design team is available to help you create the ideal coffee packaging. Plus, we are able to custom-print coffee bags using innovative digital printing technology, with a quick turnaround and shipping time. We also offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) to micro-roasters who are looking to remain agile while showcasing brand identity and a commitment to the environment.

For more information on rice paper coffee bags, contact our team

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Tori Taylor
Tori Taylor

Victoria is a highly experienced content creator, writer, and editor based out of South Africa. With the experience gained by working in newsrooms and writing for lifestyle magazines, she is now focussed on creating insightful and relatable content for the specialty coffee community.

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