I started to think about how one should dispose of coffee packaging after it has been used. Should you recycle your coffee packaging? Should you compost it? Should you compost the packaging by taking it to a supermarket, who then takes it to a professional facility? There is no one answer: the world of coffee packaging is complicated, and disposal instructions vary by packaging.
My concern with coffee packaging at the moment is that in many cases there are not clear instructions on how to recycle your coffee packs, if they can be recycled. This is a problem because if this information is not clear, there will be some consumers—including myself—who may not take the time to do a little bit of research on how to dispose of a coffee packet. according to the packaging
I have been saving bags of coffee as part of a collection. At last, those efforts have found a use. I took a selection of bags which were easy to take out of my drawer where I store my coffee bags and counted up how many were recyclable. In total, I looked at 13 bags (which is a sample of my collection, not the entirety). No brand was represented twice in my counting. These bags are from roasters all around the world and I will not name any bag in particular.
Six of the coffee bags did not have any guidance on the packaging with regard to how I should dispose of the packets after use. The other seven packets did have guidance, but to varying degrees. One packet pointed out the fact the bags are 100% reusable and recyclable was at the very top of the back label, in clear text, even above the roast date and batch of the coffee. I like this packet because the fact the bag is recyclable is clear. Another packet said the bag was biodegradable on the front, pointing me via an asterisk to more information on the back. Other packet with recycling information only had guidance on the back in text which was not easy for me to read.
The packet that I think done the best job in terms of messaging used the words "Fully recyclable." As a consumer, that is important to me, because I do not have an extensive knowledge of the recycling collection protocols of my local council. In case you did not know, some materials which are technically recyclable cannot be recycled in certain local areas. This is inconvenient for consumers and bad for the environment but is another debate entirely. If a packet can only be recycled at large supermarkets, I want to know that.
I would like to see more coffee companies be clear on what to do with their packaging after it has been used. Coffee companies should:
Make the text prominent on their packaging, or at least stand out, so that the consumer can easily find the information.
Make sure the text is in good contrast with the rest of the packet. The packet I pointed out who said the packaging was fully recyclable did not meet this goal, which is a shame because their messaging was spot on.
The text should be precise. Do I need to take the packet to a large supermarket for recycling? Can I just throw the packet in my recycling bin?
I personally prefer recyclable packaging because I do not have a living arrangement where I can have my own home composting. Let me be clear: this is personal preference, but it's something I wanted to share. Without sharing preference, it is hard for brands to understand exactly what they should do in terms of their packaging. I should note that so many business owners are thinking about coffee packaging to great lengths and I love seeing this. If you see a packet that says it is fully recyclable, or you see a brand that has their own refilling stations in their store(s), you should remember that it was probably not an obvious choice for them. Choosing packaging, recycling, and re-usability protocols for one's business takes a lot of thought as I have learned recently.
One business owner pointed out to me that they think information should be present, but not actively upsold to customers. I think this is an excellent point. Yes, coffee packaging is important, but it should not be a selling point. The quality of the agricultural product is what speciality coffee is all about. That's why speciality coffee itself is an industry versus just being part of commodity coffee. But, I do think there is a difference between upselling and being clear. It's all a matter of what you think works best for your brand. A simple statement on the front or back of your packet, prominently placed, that your packaging is 100% recyclable is enough. Talking about it on your coffee product pages would be helpful, too, so I can better evaluate your coffee and whether it meets my environmental needs.
In summary, coffee packaging is inconsistent. And there is rarely anyone to blame here. I know many people are thinking about packaging and consider it as a key part of their product. I think we need standards. The exact direction we should go in should be decided by people who know a lot more about this issue than I do. I'm very new to the world of recycling coffee packaging but I find this area interesting and want to learn more. What I do know is that through setting clear standards, perhaps legally enforced, the coffee industry—and other industries that also have similar packaging problems in terms of balancing environmental friendliness and the longevity of the product held within the packaging—is worth further debate.
To all those companies that do not make recycling information clear on their packaging, please do. Consumers like me depend on clear guidance from you to understand what to do with our packaging.