Environmentally friendly coffee packaging

by Callum


Our packaging research journey

We’ve been working hard behind the scenes searching for the most environmentally friendly packaging that will also keep your coffee super fresh on its journey to you!

As I’m sure you’ll agree, we hate single-use! When we started our roastery we knew that we wanted to be as environmentally friendly as possible, both now and as we grow in the future.

We want to be at the front, leading the way, but also keeping the coffee quality a focal point. As you will likely know, we take great care and time sourcing the highest quality, speciality coffees from all over the world, so maintaining the quality of the roasted coffee before it arrives with you is so important to us.

Looking at it holistically

We took a deep dive into compostable, biodegradable and recyclable options - we spent time understanding the different impacts on both the creation of the packaging itself, the job of keeping coffee fresh and the end life of the bag. Each stage has a different impact on the environment and so, we wanted to consider it holistically.

One thing we noticed was that there is certainly a lot of smoke and mirrors involved in packaging and the figures of what actually gets incinerated or ends up in landfill, instead of composted or recycled is eye watering!

Another thing that we realised early on is that in the UK, our infrastructure to dispose of biodegradable, compostable or recyclable packaging from home (kerbside) is certainly below par. Other European countries definitely do a much better job, meaning consumers can feel assured that their packaging will either be disposed of correctly or have another beautiful life!

On this note, hopefully as consumer demand and environmental consciousness grows we will see more effective systems put in place to manage our waste packaging in the UK. Along with this, there are always additional steps we can all take ourselves to help minimise our own waste and reuse as much as possible.

Coffee packaging options to consider

Compostable coffee bags - Compostable on paper sounds like the most sustainable option. Something breaking down and becoming soil sounds perfect and it almost is. Hopefully one day it will be, but for the moment the vast majority (if not all) of compostable bags, cups, straws etc. need to go to a commercial composting facility that can process these correctly, otherwise they don’t break down. Many people don’t realise that they can not be put in the household compost bin!

Another issue is that the material has an ability to ‘breath’, which affects coffee quality in the bag when stored. The delicious coffee has gone on a serious journey, from being grown with love at source, and carefully roasted to perfection - we don’t want all that going to waste for it to arrive with you tasting flat and lifeless. We’re keeping our eyes peeled on domestic (at home) compostable technology and we will certainly be testing it for ourselves once it's more regularly available.

Biodegradable coffee bags - Everything will break down eventually whether it takes weeks, months, years, decades or millennia. However what does it break down into? The current technology in biodegradable bags means that they contain plastic linings. Therefore, yes it will break down over time, but into microplastics! We certainly don’t want any nasty microplastics contaminating the land, rivers, ocean or food chain.

Aluminium lined bags - These bags contain a layer of aluminium in between either paper or plastic. As it contains different materials these bags are slightly harder to dispose of as they need to go to a specialist plant for the materials to be separated and recycled individually. So it can be done, it just needs to be done properly! Although, due to the lining, these bags do keep coffee at peak quality for much longer.

Recyclable plastic coffee bags - Surprisingly the manufacturing of plastic bags has a much lower environmental impact than that of paper bags - however you do need to consider the end life. In terms of keeping coffee fresh, they do the job well and are sturdy for posting out coffee. Although not widely curbside recyclable, these bags are easily recycled at a specialist facility as they are 100% one recyclable material.

The demand is growing to be able to recycle different types of plastic curbside, and some supermarkets now offer the ability to recycle different plastics. In many parts of Europe this type of plastic is easily recycled from home, and hopefully the UK will follow suit in the not too distant future!

What did we decide for retail and wholesale bags?

Retail 250g bags

After considering all the options described above we decided to go with 100% recyclable and carbon neutral plastic bags. We found a great supplier of these bags, who are committed to lessening their environmental footprint as a business. All of their bags are produced in a carbon neutral way, and not only this, they invest in projects with the aim to lessen CO2 in two of the leading specialty coffee producing countries, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Some recycling facilities are currently able to take these bags from end consumers, however just in case, we want to help our customers with the end life of their bags to make sure that they are recycled correctly.

You’re probably asking yourself, how can I get my bags to the specialists facilities to ensure they are correctly recycled? Well that's where we step back in to support…

Simply send any of your used bags back to us at our roastery and will send them off to a specialist recycling plant to ensure that they get recycled properly. We’ve done tons of research on where to get them recycled so we can be sure that they won’t end up in landfill!

You can send them via Royal Mail to us at:

Fire & Flow

Unit 2A, Tall Trees Estate

Bagendon

Cirencester

Gloucestershire

GL7 7JE

Wholesale kg bags

With our wholesale bags we decided to stick with our aluminium lined bags for now as throughout our research we haven’t found a better alternative for this bag. Like with all of the above options, they still have to go to a specialist plant to be recycled, but these bags also keep the coffee quality very high for a much longer time period. The aluminium and plastic barriers stop any moisture, gas and light transfer which will damage coffee beans and cause them to lose flavour and quality in a matter of days.

In order to manage the end life of these bags we have a project running where our coffee shop partners collect and return these bags to us in big batches. We then send them to the specialist facility where they are recycled so that they can enjoy a new life!

How Are the Bags Recycled?

Our aluminium lined bags are recycled with microwave-induced pyrolysis - heat energy is provided in the form of microwaves. This is a process in which organic material, such as paper or plastic, is heated and broken down. The process is designed so that the fragile and desired materials are not damaged during the process. In this case the aluminium layer is separated and reused for new products. The plastic material breaks down back into hydrocarbons which are then separated into gas and oil. The gas can be repurposed to power the recycling facility and the oil can be used as a fuel source as well.

We are always on the lookout for any new developments in eco friendly packaging so if you spot anything you think would be of interest to us definitely give us a shout!