WHY OVERVIEW COFFEE BAGS ARE RECYCLABLE VS. COMPOSTABLE
Coffee is something that most adults enjoy on a daily basis. The majority of coffee drinkers don’t live anywhere near a coffee farm, so getting coffee “locally” is simply not an option for most.
So what’s the best way to reduce the environmental impact of a product that has to be shipped thousands of miles to its users?
For coffee, the most effective solutions actually happen on the farm. Agriculture is one of the most harmful businesses on the planet. Most of our other blogs discuss how we can do better, even reverse climate change, with agriculture so if you want to learn more about that, click here. This article is about how the coffee gets to you. Specifically, the coffee bag.
When it comes to packaging, we have not been able to find a perfect solution…yet. We did a lot of research on the overall impact of what we’ve identified as the two best (or least bad) coffee packaging options.
There are 4 components that make a typical coffee bag functional:
- Interior food-grade barrier material
- Exterior material
- Zip closure (or tin tie)
- One-way oxygen valve
Environmental Impact - Our goal is to operate a business that naturally offsets our emissions beyond neutrality to actually do far more good than harm. Presently, there are aspects of being a physical product business that forces us to make decisions that cause the least amount of harm. Our packaging is one of them. Shipping is another. Electricity is in there too. We’ll get there.
Coffee Freshness - A good coffee bag is airtight so oxygen can’t creep in and spoil the freshness. This is where the valve comes in.
Durability - We ship our coffee all over the country so we need a bag that will endure the inevitable bumps and bruises sustained during cross-country travel.
Beauty - It matters. We care deeply about our farming partners, the habitat they farm in, our planet, and our customers - so, since these coffees are grown on beautiful farms, it only feels right to deliver them in beautiful bags.
So how do we find a packaging solution that checks all of these boxes? We found two options:
1. PLA stands for polylactic acid or polylactide. It’s a polyester derived from renewable biomass, typically from fermented plant starch, such as corn, cassava, sugarcane, or sugar beet pulp.
Sounds amazing...but it’s far from perfect. Presently, PLA plastics can only be properly composted at commercial composting facilities and the infrastructure is not yet scaled to a place where it’s a viable solution to reduce waste. This means, unless you have a seriously massive, and hot compost pile at home, you need to send it off to a commercial facility in order for it to be processed properly.
Often times, packaging bearing the label of “Compostable” or “Biodegradable” is either intentionally or unintentionally misleading. Many of us have lost trust in existing civic recycling facilities and programs so this seems “better” but it’s not always so. Often times this kind of labeling is intended to make the consumer experience a deeper sense of responsibility for their packaged product and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more environmentally friendly.
Another known issue with PLA is that it can be confused for non-compostable plastic by consumers and recycled as such contaminating recyclables and causing all of the items to be sent to the landfill.
Moreover, PLA is a derivative by-product of industrial monocropping. Given the immense environmental damage of these agricultural operations, the source for this product is in part responsible for the degradation of soil health. ( We want to help rebuild soil health globally!! )
2. #4 LDPE is a virgin plastic...sigh. This means it’s a petroleum product that is refined and used to make many different products. Generally speaking, plastic is terrible for the environment. It’s often perceived to be eco-enemy number one. I often try to think of when plastic was first invented, how it must have seemed like a miracle - a transparent, watertight, lightweight, sanitary material that can keep things fresh - yet those attributes are precisely why it’s indestructible by natural forces.
The trademark of the oil industry is greed. The dogged pursuit of “more” oil is less about prosperity for societies and more about profits for the uber-wealthy. They are willing to destroy entire ecosystems, lobby against substantial petroleum alternatives, and deny science to get richer. It sucks.
So why would we even consider a virgin plastic? Firstly, the infrastructure that exists for recycling plastic is far from perfect, but it’s much more sophisticated and widely available than processing for compostable alternatives like PLA. This means the likelihood of a #4 plastic bag being recycled is a lot higher than that of a PLA bag being properly composted.
The other benefits are durability and uniformity. Everything in the bag is made out of the same plastic. So when it’s recycled, there’s no added work in order for it to be processed properly. Many “compostable” coffee bags have tin ties or valves the need to be removed before processing which adds a step and complicates things.
So, in the end, we went with the 100% recyclable #4 LDPE plastic coffee bags. This doesn’t mean we’ll stop trying to find or even create a better solution. Our commitment to doing more good than harm is our reason for being in business.
We now offer two sizes including a 1 kilogram option (2.2 pounds) to offer more coffee in less packaging for those who prefer to order larger quantities.
Systemic change is necessary to restore harmony with our planet. The way humans are going about our business here on Earth is far too impactful in all the wrong ways. If we want this bountiful habitat to exist for future generations of humans, we have to do a lot better. That’s why we put our motto on every one of our bags (even though it’s a little ironic that the bags are plastic) it’s the best we can do now and the sentiment remains true:
WHEN THE HUMAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITIZES ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP,
ALL LIFE WILL FLOURISH.
*if you are a super savvy materials person reading this and have any ideas for better solutions, please email us at email@example.com