Arguably, it has never been easier for businesses to move away from single-use plastics and adopt sustainable packaging alternatives.
Recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable coffee packaging options are easier to access and have become more affordable across several industries. Notably, it is estimated the global compostable packaging market will increase by up to 17% over the next five years.
That said, climate change is consistently raising temperatures to record levels across the world. As a result, a common question being asked is whether compostable packaging can withstand these warm conditions long enough to protect and contain products.
Compostable packaging has a limited lifespan, as it is made from organic matter, which disintegrates naturally over time.
Packaging plays an essential role in maintaining a coffee’s quality and freshness. So, it is natural for roasters to want to know how well compostable coffee packaging will protect their product.
What is compostable packaging?
Many will have come across the term “composting” through gardening or by looking for ways to manage food waste.
Composting traditionally relies on a complex ecosystem of living organisms such as worms, insects, and bacteria, to break down food waste safely. This will usually happen quickly, with ambient heat, water, and moisture helping to accelerate the process.
The fertile soil helps plants to thrive, which further attracts living organisms, repeating the process to maintain the soil’s integrity.
It is a common mistake for consumers to assume any compostable material placed in the bin will perform the same way.
Compostable coffee packaging is made from organic matter that breaks down completely to produce nutrient-rich compost leaving no environmentally damaging residue behind.
To do that, it requires an active microbial environment, such as a compost heap, to fully degrade. When placed in commercial composting conditions, the coffee packaging will typically degrade into carbon dioxide (CO2), water, and organic matter within 10 to 12 weeks.
The compost produced can then be used for agricultural and horticultural purposes.
Alternatively, when compostable packaging ends up in landfills, alongside thousands of kilograms of other types of waste, it can get trapped in an anaerobic or oxygen-free environment as it tries to decompose.
This process may release methane gas into the environment, contaminating the soil and any water sources below ground. This contaminated water can find its way into personal water supplies, where it may be consumed.
Home versus industrially compostable coffee packaging
Packaging is likely to sit in storage for days, or even months, before it is used.
More so, it is likely to travel through complex and potentially dangerous supply chains.
Producers of compostable coffee packaging are invested in ensuring their product is more robust than food waste and resists breaking down unless in a very specific situation. They do this by ensuring the packaging is industrially compostable.
Composting packaging, either industrially or commercially, is a carefully managed and controlled process. It involves compostable packaging being separated and processed separately.
The typical duration of the process can take up to several months. Waste processors use mechanical or physical turning or layering to ensure the aeration of the waste.
They can also use a higher temperature and the addition of specific microorganisms to help the materials break down completely.
To better control the process, these temperatures and organisms rarely occur in natural settings.
This is deliberate. It helps ensure the compostable packaging will remain durable – unless it is stored near a significant artificial heat source.
That said, this also means that should compostable packaging end up in a landfill, it is likely to behave in the same way as single-use plastics. It is likely to withstand degradation for a significant period of time.
Using compostable coffee packaging
Before switching to compostable coffee packaging, it is essential that roasters and coffee shops ensure it will be collected and processed appropriately.
Failure to do this may negatively impact how customers perceive a brand. Customers are increasingly wary of the veracity of sustainability claims being made by businesses.
Offering compostable coffee bags that end up in a landfill could create a value action gap. This is when a customer’s desires do not correspond with their actions.
Inadvertently leading customers astray may reflect negatively on a business, reducing the trust enjoyed by its consumers.
That said, there are a number of ways roasters and coffee shops can ensure their compostable coffee bags perform as intended.
First, roasters should examine the wording on the packaging. As compostable packaging is yet to be overseen by authorities, there are limited laws concerning how it is marketed.
As a result, manufacturers may label their packaging as biodegradable and compostable, when in reality, it may be one or the other.
If a packaging supplier lists the packaging as biodegradable, roasters should know the term can be used to describe any material that breaks down over time – even if it takes centuries to do so.
Additionally, it may leave behind toxins as it breaks down. Therefore, roasters will need to ensure their compostable coffee packaging breaks down quickly, without leaving toxins behind.
Second, roasters and coffee shops should investigate local collection and processing options.
Local municipalities may offer customers access to dedicated industrial composting bins. If so, communicating this to customers will help ensure they correctly dispose of their used coffee bags.
If no such collection or processing facilities exist, roasters may want to collect empty coffee packaging themselves to ensure it is correctly disposed of.
Compostable packaging has great potential to help society reduce plastic waste and help customers make more mindful purchasing choices.
However, like many solutions, it will require preparation and research to maximise its effectiveness.
MTPak Coffee is here to guide you through the process. We offer roasters and coffee shops a range of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options that include compostable coffee bags and takeaway coffee cups.
Our line of coffee packaging options is made from renewable materials, such as compostable kraft paper, and rice paper, as well as multilayer LDPE coffee bags with an environmentally friendly PLA lining, all of which minimise waste and contribute to a circular economy.
Plus, we are able to custom-print coffee bags using innovative digital printing technology, with a quick turnaround time of 40-hours and 24-hour shipping time.