Confusion over terms such as bioplastic, biodegradable, and compostable can make it hard for coffee roasters to make the right choice when it comes to packaging.
However, considering estimates that there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050, it has become more important than ever to grasp what these terms mean and how you can use them in your business.
To learn more, I spoke with Kiki He, one of our Senior Account Managers at MTPak Coffee. She told me about the manufacture of biodegradable packaging, and how it can benefit specialty coffee roasters.
What Does Biodegradable Mean?
Biodegradation is the process by which microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, break down solid waste.
To qualify as biodegradable, the solid waste must cause no pollution to its surrounding environment once it has biodegraded, and full biodegradation must occur within a year.
Whether at an industrial plant or at home, for biodegradation to take place, there needs to be a balance of microorganisms, heat, oxygen, moisture, and sunlight.
When any one of these variables changes, so does the speed at which waste biodegrades. In a typical industrial facility, each variable is controlled to ensure that large amounts of waste are dealt with as quickly as possible.
Common Biodegradable Materials
Biodegradable materials are made from a range of different sources, from pulp to cornstarch.
One of the most popular biodegradable materials for packaging roasted coffee is kraft paper. Kraft paper is made using the kraft process, which involves the chemical conversion of wood into wood pulp. Once the lignin and cellulose fibres of the wood are separated, the cellulose pulp is strained, and formed into kraft paper.
While it is strong and environmentally friendly, it is not as effective at preserving freshness as other materials. Hence, it tends to be favoured by specialty coffee roasters who distribute their coffee to consumers in smaller batches. At MTPak Coffee, we offer 100% biodegradable and compostable kraft paper for coffee packaging.
Biodegradable plastics, or bioplastics, are also a popular material for packaging. They have been offered as an eco-friendly alternative to conventional plastics since the 1980s.
Polylactic acid (PLA) is one of the most common bioplastics found in coffee packaging, where it is recognised for being flexible and for having a long shelf life. It is made from starches derived from corn sugar, potatoes, and sugar cane.
“MTPak Coffee uses PLA for coffee pouches, and PLA, PBS, and PBAT for the degassing valve on the biodegradable coffee pouches,” Kiki explains. “Our PLA packaging is fully recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable.”
Bioplastics must be rigorously tested at different temperature and humidity levels in industrial settings to be certified as biodegradable.”
The European EN 13432 standards on biodegradable plastics state that bioplastics must biodegrade by 10% of their initial weight within 12 weeks in a controlled facility, and by 90% in no longer than 6 months.
For roasters based in Europe, this means there is absolutely no ambiguity about the quality of their packaging when it is certified biodegradable.
Disposing Of Biodegradable Packaging
To ensure the benefits of biodegradable packaging are maximised, consumers need to be aware of how to correctly dispose of it. This is vital to reduce waste and minimise the impact on the environment.
“The best way to dispose of [biodegradable] plastics is to send them to an industrial or commercial facility where they’ll break down with the right mixture of heat, microbes, and time,” Kiki explains.
In an industrial facility, controlled conditions mean that temperatures are around 60°C, compared to around 35°C in a home composting bin. Because microorganisms multiply faster when temperatures are high, waste sent to an industrial facility will break down far quicker than anywhere else.
Another point to consider when disposing of biodegradable packaging is oxygen.
For example, PLA is designed to biodegrade in conditions where there is plenty of oxygen and the air can circulate. Most landfills have anaerobic conditions as they are left undisturbed, meaning that oxygen cannot reach the lower levels of waste.
If PLA is left in an anaerobic environment, it will not biodegrade. Therefore, sending it to an industrial facility ensures it receives the correct amount of oxygen to successfully decompose.
Provided they are kept in the right conditions, plant-based materials, such as rice paper or polylactic acid (PLA), will break down into gases, water, and other natural compounds in no longer than 90 days.
The Benefits Of Biodegradable Packaging For Roasters
In recent years, growing demand from consumers for eco-friendly products have made biodegradable packaging more of a necessity than a choice for specialty coffee roasters.
According to a sustainability briefing by solar panel manufacturer SolarCity’s sustainability briefing, 75% of consumers are more likely to buy a product or service if the company is making a concerted effort to be sustainable.
By switching to biodegradable materials for your packaging, whether it’s kraft paper, rice paper or PLA, you are, in effect, showcasing your commitment to environmental sustainability to your consumers. It also demonstrates an ability to keep abreast of new trends, giving people confidence and trust in the quality of your product.
Yet the decision to opt for biodegradable coffee packaging isn’t only about sales – it is paramount to the long term wellbeing of the planet too.
Since plastic was first mass-produced in the 1950s, 4.9 billion tonnes out of the total 6.3 billion has been sent to landfill. This is a remarkable statistic that indicates the desperate need for sustainable alternatives.
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.
Biodegradable coffee packaging is a great option for specialty coffee roasters who are looking to reduce the environmental impact of their products, and want to communicate their commitment to sustainability to customers.
From kraft paper to PLA, at MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of different biodegradable packaging solutions for specialty coffee roasters.