Sustainability in coffee packaging #1


We are SlowMov, a specialty coffee roaster and coffee shop in the heart of the cultural area in Gracia, Barcelona. We are not only passionate in serving our select coffee beans roasted in-house, but also in acting as the discussion point where people can learn, share and explore our “SlowMov Food Culture.” Our local, organic products are sourced directly from the producers all over Spain through our online platform and coffee shop. Our work is based on finding producers, visiting farms, selecting products, transforming them, and delivering the authentic stories people leave behind.

In an age where we are running without knowing where we are really going, time becomes more valuable than money. SlowMov appears as a project that offers a quality alternative with respect to the environment and its slow processes.

By working with coffee, an exotic product grown in the tropics and consumed mostly in distant countries, it generates a significant carbon footprint. As we sell more coffee , it creates a greater impact on the environment, which is a contradiction of our project. So we decided  to offset these negative effects with practices that generate less waste or reuse materials

Biodegradable or compostable?

We decided start with the packaging of our coffee. As we started to look for other companies offering packaging for coffee, we realized that the material used is PE and PET- the same type of material used to manufacture most plastic bottles. It is a composite mixture of polymers, both nondegradable mixed with a little degradable material which, when degraded, fragments off and releases millions of  non degradable micro-particles into the environment. These same small particles are everywhere, in the soil, seawater and finally ending up im the food chain of animals and humans.

To start looking for information on alternative 100% biodegradable or compostable conventional coffee packaging, we realized that there were too many choices and few examples to follow. Only a few companies offer packages tailored to the sale of coffee that are more than 50% based on materials that degrade rapidly. But what does it mean to degrade quickly? 1 day? 3 months? or 1000 years?

The difference between the term biodegradable and compostable lies in the decomposition rate of the material. All biodegradable material is decomposed by the action of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and algae, without residue in a specific period of time, whereas a compostable material (leaves, wood, etc. )  biodegrades into organic matter.

To give you an example, the time it takes to biodegrade other materials are:

  • Paper: 3 months
  • Fruit skin : 6 months
  • Newspapers: 1 year
  • unpainted wood: 2 to 3 years
  • Cigarette filters: 1 to 2 years
  • Plastic Bags (PE / PET): 100 to 1000 years.
  • Plastic bottles (PET): up to 700 years.

As we reviewed this data, we realized that the task of finding a compostable bag was not easy. And not just any bag. In order for the coffee to remain intact, it requires that the material directly touches the coffee, must be safe for food use, and has a valve that flows in one direction ,which allows the output of the carbon dioxide accumulated during roasting, preventing the entry of oxygen and moisture-factors that accelerate the aging of the coffee beans . We also needed a bag that can prevent the early degradation of coffee, so a zip closure to open and close the bag can keep the coffee in optimal conditions for consumption.

Finally, we found a Canadian company that invented a new material that biodegrades completely- at the same speed as the degradation of fruit skin, in 180 days. This is the stuff we now use in our current packaging.

We found the bag. Now we need labels and ink to allow our packaging to be fully biodegrade in 180 days, leaving only water in its wake. Nobody said that this path was easy or fast, but if we want to change the world, we must proceed step by step.

We’ll keep you updated in future editions of this journal about our experience in continuing our environmental responsibility in the coffee industry.

Original article written for  Plant A Douce