Recyclable packaging - why the change? | IncaFé Organic Coffee


Recyclable packaging - why the change?

Posted by Joseph Verbeek on
Recyclable packaging - why the change?

We are changing to recyclable packaging, why?

As explained in our blog on packaging, we need good packaging to protect an exquisite product like coffee from staling quickly. Without good packaging food waste would go through the roof and it is already over 30% worldwide. In many cases industrial processes are way more efficient in preparing food than you at home, reducing energy footprint and saving time. Manufactured products need packaging. We also need packaging to avoid diseases spreading through food contamination. 

Compostable packaging may be a solution in certain cases but for coffee packaging it is not, at least not at the moment. See our blog why we are moving away from compostable coffee packaging. 

So we are moving to recyclable plastics and have become members of the Soft Plastic Recycling Scheme. Our new packaging will hit the market in May 2024. It is made of a very new 100% PE product without metalised layer. We have been testing it for over a year now. PE is a plastic that could be reused for packaging if recycled properly. Removing the metalised layer will make it easier to recycle but being just one type of plastic is the main benefit.

The case for recyclable materials

Yes there are many critics of recycling, understandably, and that is great because the issues with recycling are issues of willingness of industry and governments. 

The big problem with recycling is that there are so many plastics and they are all being mixed up. It is too confusing for households to segregate all the different plastics and often the markings are not very clear on plastics. The recyclability of plastics is rapidly improving and governments, food manufacturers and retail chains need to improve plastics manufacturing standards, demand adherence to standards on composition and demand only certain compositions that can be recycled.

Possibly unbeknown to the public this is happening at a reasonable pace and for example in coffee packaging the traditional aluminum inner layer in the 3 layer composite coffee packaging film has almost disappeared and now the PET inner layer is disappearing. Much of the soft packaging is either PP, PE or a combination of both. These plastics can be mixed and still recycled although the recycled end product will be a lower grade plastic. If PE could be separated out 100%, it can be used to make new packaging material or almost equivalent value plastic as the virgin plastic. So the challenge to improve soft plastic recycling is to go to 100% PP or 100% PE and being able to segregate or indeed prescribing only one or the other for branded food packaging. 

With slightly different manufacturing processes PE layers can be made good for printing, good as the middle layer to give the main barriers, and good for structure and heat sealing (the inner layer). This allows now for mono-plastic (PE) packaging. We expect  and hope that much of the packaging goes the direction of mono PE mandated by governments and retailers. In addition, the technologies for recycling become better to aid separation and true recycling can be achieved. 

At the moment there are a lot of limitations how often plastic can be recycled but this is improving too and at the end it could be used for fence-posts or pallets or in latest development be cracked in industrial plastic crackers where the plastic is broken down in base materials either to be used as fuel or in new plastics. The main points are that there are a lot of initiatives and each time something can be recycled it is a huge win in terms of reducing GHG emissions compared to single-use plastics, including compostable plastics which have a much higher GHG footprint to start with.

The EU is leading regulation. We need much more regulation and governments leading the change. Recycling can be done and it can be done economically but there needs to be a lot more standardisation. We think that will come as there is just no other way forward.

Stop littering

The issue with plastic contamination in the environment is a different problem from the greenhouse gas emissions. It is mostly a problem of people and industries like fisheries dumping plastic waste directly into the environment. Many countries have no proper waste collection and a poor attitude towards littering. Plastic dumped along road sides is washed into rivers and from there to sea. This is by far the biggest plastic problem we are facing.  With good and contained collection, even to landfill, this problem would be hugely reduced. There should also be easy fixes like an immediate ban on polystyrene. All your good work with recycling plastic is undone with the purchase of your large electrical household item or even a laptop with their polystyrene packaging.

At IncaFé, we specialise in organic specialty coffee, which we import directly from growers, mostly in Peru. Peru is ideally suited for specialty coffee with much organic rich soils at high altitude and good rainfall. Check out our range of organic coffee to learn more. 


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