As a coffee drinker, waste bags accumulate in my kitchen daily. I wondered about this when a bag of beans from Noble Coffee Roasting in Ashland, Oregon, arrived as part of my MistoBox membership. At the bottom, I saw a tiny label that said, "This bag is biodegradable and compostable." Before composting, please remove the tin tie and valve."
Is it possible for me to compost this bag? What if I threw it away instead? I quickly discovered that exploring a subject is not always as straightforward as it seems.
Switching to more environmentally friendly packaging
Packaging is critical for sustainable coffee businesses, and several have begun to transition away from conventional foil-lined bags. The repercussions may be severe. Each week, Noble's micro-roaster consumes about 500 12-ounce packets and 250 five-pound bundles. "When you multiply it by a year or more, you have a lot of content. And we're just one little business," says Jared Rennie, Noble Coffee's founder and CEO. "If more of us little businesses—and some larger ones—made this kind of step, it would have a significant impact."
There are many biodegradable bag choices. It is the bag I initially saw at Noble Coffee Roasting. It is also used by several other renowned roasters, including Counter Culture, Spyhouse Coffee, Water Avenue Coffee, and Huckleberry. What distinguishes these two bags from other biodegradable and compostable alternatives (such as a pure paper bag) is that they provide the barrier necessary to preserve the coffee. The outside portion of this bag is made of paper, but the inside liner is made of plastic that contains an additive that enables it to degrade over time.
NAVIGATING THE PACKAGES
As a customer, navigating all of this may be challenging. According to the Federal Trade Commission, making an unqualified degradable claim for goods entering the solid waste stream is misleading if the objects do not fully disintegrate after one year of usual disposal.
"If a product is biodegradable, the whole item is compostable," Brenda Platt, professional and non of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, explains. "There is no such thing as biodegradable material that is 80% compostable and 20% non-compostable. Platt recommends that individuals consult properties tested by the Biodegradable Products Institute. This third-party institution certifies exclusive products that adhere to the US Standard ASTM D6400 or D6868, which establishes requirements Coffee roasters glasgow for products to be compostable in municipal and industrial facilities.
A Delicate Equilibrium
Packaging selection requires a "continuous equilibrium between quality and sustainability," according to Rennie. Selling specialty coffee requires maintaining the product's quality; the bags must perform functions such as allowing the coffee to degas without allowing oxygen into the bag (the valve's duty) and preserving the coffee's freshness (the liner's job). "When I balance the two choices in my mind," Rennie adds, comparing a conventional bag to one that is partially biodegradable/compostable, "it's not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction."
Several other roasters concur. Counter Culture is doing a packaging audit to determine what is currently available on the market and what can be done to guarantee the most recyclable strategies possible. "I would love it if there were a business out there that created a reasonably high barrier, a fully biodegradable bag," Rennie adds.
WHAT IS THE POSSIBLE OUTCOME?
What occurs after we've emptied a coffee bag is not the most critical aspect. "We know that the majority of packaging's environmental effect occurs during the manufacturing stage of its lifetime. This is where material types, whether recycled or virgin, and the amount and kind of energy required to manufacture the packaging may make a significant difference in terms of environmental impact," says Bruce Walker of the City of Portland's Bureau of Planning & Sustainability.
Walters of Pacific Bag is aware of its significance. "Ideally, you want 100 per cent renewable and biodegradable materials," Walters adds. To that end, the firm is presently developing a new version of the Biotr bag that is entirely composed of recyclable sources, including the valve.
"The industry has stepped up significantly to satisfy the sales of the products," Platt notes. "Even if these goods do not yet exist, they will if there is sufficient demand." Both consumers and roasters may continue to demonstrate that desire. "We're attempting to propel the business forward...to demonstrate that there is a market for this and to say, 'Hey, keep doing all the research to improve it,'" Rennie explains. "Our goal is that more research will be conducted and that a solution will emerge that we're all proud of."