Apr 10, 2023

Why the greener package starts with a RED(cycle) bag

When it comes to sustainable coffee bags, the best option is the one that is available and feasible now, says Troy Bereau of The Bag Broker.

"There has definitely been an industry shift in thinking when it comes to sustainable packaging, and while I agree that we should be aiming for packaging that is fully compostable at home or recycled at kerbside, we’re not realistically at that point yet," explains Troy. "What is available is coffee bags that can be taken to your local supermarket to be recycled as part of the REDcycle programme."

Having worked in the Australian coffee sector for close to 20 years – including a stint as owner/operator of the Coffee Hit roastery and café in Melbourne – Troy understands the financial pain points that come with running a coffee retail business.

"Price is always going to be a factor when it comes to packaging, especially when coupled with the practicality of the bag itself," he says. "I appreciate that, but we do have an option that is affordable and meets the criteria to be recycled through REDcycle whilst ensuring the product stays fresh. This is a step coffee retailers can take now and make a difference."

Indeed, giving coffee bags another cycle of life is a better option than landfill. According to Sustainability Victoria, Australians throw away 1.9 million tonnes of packaging every year – the equivalent of filling the Melbourne Cricket Ground nine times.

"The statistics around waste are sobering. Single use packaging in particular has placed a heavy burden on our environment," Troy states. "One of the key issues is that for packaging to do its job, it often consists of material that isn't recyclable."

This has been the case with coffee bags in the past. For coffee retailers, the critical function of a coffee bag is to keep beans from deteriorating which means it must be made from material that prevents oxygen from permeating the sealed environment.

"Traditionally, that's been the issue, as coffee bags need a barrier to prevent oxygen from infusing the bag and that barrier has been metallised such as a foil lining, which makes the bag unrecyclable," Troy clarifies. "Likewise, components such as valves and plastic resealing strips were too difficult to recover in the recycling stream, so were simply sent to landfill."

The Bag Broker, however, has worked with their partners to produce a bag that offers the barrier protection required to keep roasted beans fresh, whilst also meeting the specifications outlined by REDCycle.

"We started using EVOH (ethylene-vinyl alcohol) on the inside of our bags which offers the same high level of oxygen barrier protection as metallised material but can be recycled," Troy adds. "We get the same freshness as the previous bags with these, but our bag and valves all meet the REDCycle criteria – so that means nothing has to be removed from the bag, it can go straight into the REDCycle collection bin."

Melbourne coffee roasters such as Criteria by Craig, The Bean Cartel, Blume and MAP coffee have all been purchasing REDCycle bags from The Bag Broker and feedback so far has been positive. In fact, Craig Simon commented that the tactile aesthetic of the recyclable bags complemented the Criteria brand.

"The visual and tactile aesthetics are really important, and I personally love the way our REDcycle bags feel – they have a luxurious quality, which is compatible with our premium product," he said in a previously published article in BeanScene.

While a REDcycle recyclable bag is a preferred option to one that goes directly into the rubbish bin, Troy recognises its limitations, particularly since its success is dependent on consumer behaviour.

"The reality is that only a certain number of people are going to collect their plastic waste in the home – including coffee bags – and take them to a REDcycle collection point," he says. "But waiting for a better alternative is tantamount to not doing anything. If we can divert any coffee bags from going into landfill in the interim, it's better than not taking the more sustainable step."

Moreover, Troy says the price difference for choosing a more sustainable bag option can be made up with other solutions that make the packaging process more efficient and sustainable – from a financial viewpoint. For example, equipment such as the single head linear weigher and band sealer that The Bag Broker have in their offering.

"If anyone is interested to see how they can speed up their packing in a genuinely cost-effective way, these machines will both be on display at our stand at MICE," says Troy. "The weigher has a 25-kilo hopper that sits on top and it drops the coffee down in different weights that you can put directly onto the band sealer."

Together, the machines can pack up to 15 bags of 250 grams weight per minute. Troy encourages coffee roasters and retailers to come to The Bag Broker stand and see the machines in action.

"Definitely come check out our stand – we’ve sold about 30 of these in the last 12 months and everyone that uses them has been incredibly happy with the result," he concludes.