In the coffee industry, there is plenty of scope for greater sustainability. It can take a range of forms, from lowering carbon emissions and improving transparency, to limiting water usage and improving the wages of farmers.
Minimising waste plays an important role in creating a more sustainable supply chain. Experts estimate that the coffee supply chain generates over 23 million tons of waste annually, from green bean processing through to roasting and packaging.
For specialty coffee roasters, reducing waste in their roasteries not only ensures a more efficient use of coffee beans, it can help lower costs and promote respect for the people behind its production.
Read on to find out about the benefits of minimising waste in a roastery and what roasters can do to tackle the problem.
Why Roasters Should Take Action To Reduce Waste?
The waste of valuable coffee beans can be a frustrating problem for roasters; it can occur in storage, roasting, and packaging, leading to lower sales and higher costs of production.
While spilling a few beans here and there may seem negligible, it can quickly accumulate, causing a significant hit to profits over the years.
“Unless you regularly audit your expenditure in detail, it’s easy to miss how much coffee is being discarded. These small amounts add up over time”, says Laura Fornero, Digital Projects Manager at Producer Roaster Forum.
However, wasting coffee is not only about the financial loss to roasters; its effects can be felt at every stage of the supply chain.
“It takes such an incredible amount of skill and labour to produce specialty coffee,” says Umeko Motoyoshi in an article for Daily Coffee News. “I want us to keep that in mind in our decision making. Coffee is precious. We shouldn’t normalise wasting it.”
Motoyoshi’s book, Not Wasting Coffee, discusses the “value of coffee”, highlighting the hard work and care that goes into producing a single coffee bean. By drawing attention to this, she emphasises how we all have a responsibility to prevent coffee going to waste.
The effects of waste in a roastery are also felt by end-consumers. Most roasteries and cafés charge higher prices for specialty coffees or specific origins. When this coffee is wasted (in the roastery or at home due to poor packaging) it sends a conflicting message to consumers.
Practical Steps For Reducing Waste In Your Roastery
Cutting down on the amount of coffee wasted in your roastery doesn’t have to involve expensive and complicated solutions. Here are a few simple, cost-effective tips that will help.
Start small, scale later
When it comes to buying coffee, more isn’t always better. If your business is new or you’re launching a new coffee or origin, it’s best to order small batches while the market trials your product.
One of the main reasons for this is that green beans can be difficult to store effectively for long periods of time, particularly if space in your roastery is limited. Once your green beans have been delivered, it’s essential to store them correctly to minimise the risk of contamination from external factors, such as light and moisture.
To avoid the deterioration of green beans and achieve consistent roasting results, roasting expert Scott Rao recommends keeping unused green beans in a climate-controlled environment. In some roasteries, this is referred to as a “staging room”, fitted with a thermostatically controlled space heater.
However, if you don’t have the resources for a staging room, a simpler solution is simply to order less coffee in the first place.
Michael Russo is the founder of Firebean Coffee Roasters in Yukon, Canada. In an article, he says that when he first opened for business, he focused on roasting small batches of his most popular coffees for a fast inventory turnover.
“Test stuff out, see how it works – no business is too big or too small,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Small ideas are worth testing and no effort is too little to try if it means you’re moving closer to producing zero waste.”
By testing the market before committing to large quantities of green coffee beans, you can make sure there is demand for your product before scaling output accordingly. As well as limiting the amount of wasted coffee, It will also lower the financial risk.
Invest in packaging equipment
Many roasters fill their coffee bags with beans by hand, which can cause spillage. When you reach a certain level of demand, it’s more practical and financially sustainable to invest in packaging equipment.
This is also recommended if you’ve chosen a coffee pouch that isn’t a quad seal or flat bottom bag. These bags tend to have narrow openings, which can be challenging to fill manually.
Modern packaging equipment will move your packaging via a conveyor belt and ensure its filled, nitrogen flushed, and vacuum sealed in one step. This makes the entire packaging process quicker and more efficient. It can also extend your coffee’s shelf life.
Kelly Zeissner is Vice President of America’s Best Coffee, a roastery in California. By streamlining their packaging processes, they reduced their labour costs dramatically.
“In the past, we would spend about two days each week packing the coffee into bags, and then unpack it when it came back to us – it adds up,” Kelly says in an article for Greenbiz.
Eliminating this task also allows staff members to focus on more important tasks.
Help customers keep their coffee fresh
It’s easy to think that once your coffee has left the roastery, waste is no longer a problem. However, if your coffee pouches are susceptible to splitting or fail to preserve the freshness of your roasted coffee, the consumer may decide to throw away the whole bag.
To avoid this, roasters should choose packaging that will survive the journey to the end-consumer and protect their coffee from exposure to external factors long after it has left the roastery.
Flat bottomed pouches are effective as they allow the coffee to be stored upright on a kitchen counter or in a cupboard without falling over. You can also layer your packaging material with different materials, such as foil or PLA laminate, for added protection from heat, light, and moisture.
Furthermore, you should ensure that the pouch is as convenient and user-friendly as possible. Choosing packaging that’s easy to open and close with a resealable zipper or tie is recommended, while a pouring spout can be a useful addition to larger bags. Degassing valves can also be included to prevent the bag from bursting when carbon dioxide is released from the coffee. This way, oxygen stays out and the coffee keeps fresh, while allowing the consumer to brew the coffee at their leisure.
“If you optimise your coffee packaging for longevity and make sure it’s also visually attractive, customers will want to keep it in its original packaging. If it’s in a sturdy pouch, this can prevent spillage occurring at home, too,” Laura points out.
While roasters are unable to control coffee waste at every stage of the supply chain, they have a responsibility to minimise waste in their roasteries wherever they can. Whether reducing the amount of green beans in storage, investing in packaging equipment, or providing reliable coffee bags for customers, there are always areas for improvement.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer sustainable multilayer coffee packaging that will help keep your coffee fresh and limit the risk of spillage. From stand-up pouches to flat bottom pouches, our range of sturdy, versatile, and durable coffee bags can be fully customised to include user-friendly components.