Last updated: Tuesday 30th May 2023
Can you imagine a future without coffee? If global temperatures continue to increase, it is predicted that land suitable for growing coffee will reduce by up to 50% by 2050. Our Impact Strategy is dedicated to promoting the health and well-being of people and planet, fostering stronger communities, and securing a sustainable supply of specialty coffee.
By taking interventions now, we can limit the impact of global warming.
We examined every stage of the coffee life-cycle and identified areas where we could reduce our environmental impact. One area where we had direct control was our coffee packaging, which was not recyclable and was disposed of through incineration. We have two different packaging formats: 1) retail packs for our trade customers and retailers 2) direct-from-roastery through our website. And we require a different solution for each channel.
After extensive research into alternative options, we worked with a specialist packaging supplier to create a unique, flexible material that met our technical requirements and reduced our environmental impact for our retail packaging.
In 2022, we launched fully recyclable packaging that is also made from 30% recycled material. This packaging can be disposed of through home recycling kerbside collections. Our front-of-pack features a green recyclable logo and clear recycling instructions, making it one of the most environmentally sustainable coffee packaging materials available.
Why did we change our packaging?
A recyclable solution for coffee packaging was difficult to solve because of the particular properties that the material has to demonstrate. The delicious aroma and flavour attributes of fresh roasted coffee deteriorate when exposed to air. We need to use a material with low oxygen permeability, which means air cannot pass through, to ensure our coffee stays tasting fresh. Different types of material (paper, plastic, aluminium) have different levels of porousness, which means some materials keep coffee tasting fresher for a longer time than others. For example: plastic has a higher oxygen barrier than paper.
Our previous packaging had a very thin layer of Aluminium, a layer of plastic, and layer of paper. This maintained our coffee freshness, looked very attractive, but the material could not be recycled because the composite layers cannot be separated by waste processing facilities in the UK.
We conducted research to find a packaging: (1) that keeps our coffee fresh (2) is easy to dispose of (3) is recyclable (4) made from recycled material.
Advances in material science have created a single-layer-material, with special technical properties which protects the flavours of our delicious fresh-roasted coffee.
This material is:
- 100% recyclable at home, by most local council kerb-side waste collections.
- Manufactured from 60% renewable bio-materials (non-fossil fuel) and 30% post-consumer waste recycled material (via ISCC mass-balance)
- Carbon neutral via myclimate
What does the mass balance mean?
The mass balance approach has been developed in the chemical industry as an important milestone on the pathway towards a sustainable, circular economy.
Mass balance was designed to trace the flow of materials through a complex value chain. Bio-based materials are blended in the manufacturing, making physical segregation of recycled content practically and economically unworkable. The mass balance approach makes it possible for us to track the amount and sustainability characteristics of bio-based content in our packaging material and attribute it based on a verifiable auditing system. We receive a certificate for each batch of packaging material we have produced. This allows us to make credible claims about what we do.
Why not use compostable packaging materials?
We looked very closely at developing a coffee pack made from compostable materials, because it just sounds like the most harmless type of material. Composting is a good thing! Yet, when we researched how local authority waste disposal would handle compostable packaging - none we contacted had the infrastructure and facilities to handle this material correctly. Waste processors said this material if mixed with regular recyclable packaging waste, would contaminate it, meaning the whole batch would be disposed into landfill or incinerated because they could not separate it from general waste.
For us, the most logical waste stream for compostable packaging would be to chuck it into the food waste bin, but waste processors said it would be removed, and then disposed into landfill or incinerated.
And as for home composting, a recent citizen science project directed by Professor Mark Miodownik at UC London looked at biodegradable and compostable plastics tested under different home composting conditions. They identified that the majority did not fully disintegrate, including 60% of those that were certified “home compostable.” They concluded that... "home composting is not an effective or environmentally beneficial waste processing method for biodegradable or compostable packaging in the UK.” And for Industrial Composting – people are confused by this term, and the UK lacks infrastructure facilities to handle this.
For this reason, we decided to avoid compostables. And although our original aim when changing our packaging was to be plastic free, now even WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) says that it is more beneficial to the environment and the economy to use plastic packaging that can be recycled. The material has value and can be re-used and recycled back into useful packaging. Until new technologies and infrastructure exists for recycling compostable plastics, the best option is to use recyclable plastic.
Plastic becomes a problem when it is pollution. It can alter natural habitats and processes, reducing the ability of ecosystems to adapt to climate change, directly affecting millions of people's livelihoods, food production capabilities and social well-being. United Nations Environment Program says that the problem of plastic pollution doesn't exist in a vacuum.
We need a systemic transformation to achieve the transition to a circular economy. Become a responsible consumer and reduce the amount of waste, litter and general rubbish by regularly picking up rubbish and disposing of it correctly.
For the near future…
Our current project is about improving the sustainability of our direct-from-roastery coffee packaging. Our intention was to launch this in 2022, but technical snags delayed us. Our revised target now, is to transition during 2023 by introducing fully recyclable paper packaging.
We researched and are now trialling, fully-recyclable paper packaging for coffee ordered through our website.
Our new paper bags:
- Can be recycled easily at home, by kerbside paper recycling.
- Created from renewable materials. These bags are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, meaning the production of the paper follows FSC’s principles of environmental, social and economic factors in forest management.
- Carbon balanced with The Landmark Trust.
These paper bags do not provide an oxygen barrier, which is so critical for maintaining our delicious fresh-roasted taste for a long period of time. But our trials have shown this paper packaging is perfectly suitable for coffee ordered direct from our roastery, because of the short time between roasting and arrival at your letter-box.
Once you receive your coffee, we recommend storage in Airscape cannisters, or store in the freezer. Best of all is to brew and enjoy within 2-3 weeks of the roast date printed on the pack.
Our Union mission is to enrich life through a relentless focus on great quality, sustainable sourcing and sharing the culture of delicious coffee. Using the best possible sustainable packaging without compromising our coffee quality is essential – not only for us, our customers and the planet.
If you have comments or feedback, knowledge or thoughts on the subject of sustainable packaging, then we’d love to hear from you! Please get in touch at email@example.com.