As every coffee drinker knows, there exists a loyalty to a small number of cafes in any given community. Sure, you may frequent a different cafe on occasion, but generally speaking, us humans are creatures of habit.
Despite this, sometimes it's nice to make a coffee at home, you save money and whilst not being as delicious an experience, it's hard to beat coffee in bed, right?
For this reason, many of us also purchase retail packs of coffee from our favourite local cafe for home brew. But with that comes the associated single-use packaging, a wasteful item that has typically been difficult to address. Single-use coffee bags are generally not recyclable or compostable (not without disassembling them anyway) and with other options available, do we really need single-use anyway?
We are here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be!
In our blog on this topic for businesses, we outlined how cafes are rising to the challenge of reducing single use coffee bags by ordering their coffee beans in bulk reusable tins. According to some roasters, this practice saves hundreds of single-use bags per business, per year.
The good news is that this practice does not have to be reserved only for the business itself.
Like anything, the power is with the people - that’s you and me.
If you’re a regular at-home coffee drinker and have begun to recognise that your coffee bag stash is really not doing great things for the planet, then we’re here to provide you with some simple ideas that can make a huge difference to your personal waste footprint.
1. Approach your local cafe where you would ordinarily buy take home coffee bags and ask them if a BYO coffee tin is an option? Just like BYO cup for your coffee, but applied to the beans themselves. Cafes around the country are already utilising this strategy. One example is Sonder Cafe in Perth, who promotes this (as one of many) sustainability initiatives.
2. Encourage your local cafe (if they're open to it) to sell their beans this way and not in single-use bags at all - after all, most people who buy beans from the local cafe are locals buying them to take home, and likely they will come back and purchase more.
3. Make positive suggestions such as stocking canisters on their shelves full of pre-ground or whole beans, with business branding and a deposit scheme in place, meaning that the customer puts down a deposit that is then refunded when the canister is brought back for reuse.
4. Outline to them that promoting sustainable practices encourages a wider demographic of customers, as for many people, such ethos greatly determines where their dollars are spent.
3. Ask around, if your regular isn’t open to it, then find a cafe that is. If business owners realise they could lose customers, then they may be more receptive to implementing positive change.
These might seem like strange conversations to have, but believe it or not, they are becoming more common and are valuable points of feedback for business owners who may have good intentions but shy away from taking action.
Why reuse ALWAYS wins
But what about compostable bags, you may ask?
You may have seen brands opting for compostable versions of coffee bags in recent times and wonder if it’s necessary to go to the effort to BYO container. While this represents a shift of conscience in the right direction, the benefits are negligible.
Why? We’ll explain below:
The majority of these bags are only partly compostable, meaning the consumer needs to remove parts of the product to enable it to be composted - e.g. the valve or the sealing strip. Most consumers would have no idea to do this though, nor are they likely to!
Ensuring compostable items enter the commercial composting stream is difficult, as access to these services is currently not widespread throughout Australia.
Feedback from roasters is that the compostable product is inferior to traditional packaging, not reacting well to the oily, gaseous nature of coffee beans.
Compostable coffee bags are also far more expensive than traditional varieties, making them not an overly viable option for cafes.
At the end of the day, waste is waste, whether it be from a renewable source or not. And we should all be doing our part to reduce waste wherever possible.
But coffee bags claim that they're recyclable..?
If you need even more reason to convert to reusables, let us highlight that coffee bags are generally not recyclable.
Due to the nature of how coffee acts in a sealed environment, not any old bag will do. The majority of coffee bags are a composite material, comprised of plastic, foil and paper, and containing pressure valves and plastic resealing strips. This means that in the recycling stream the individual components are difficult to recover, so most are sent straight to landfill. Like coffee cups though, coffee bags are marketed as recyclable, despite most recycling facilities not accepting them.
Local councils often have resources online where you can check whether or not coffee bags (along with other items) are accepted in your local recycling stream.
As far as the soft plastics recycling system Redcycle goes (where you can drop off your soft plastics at Coles or Woolworths for recycling) the majority of coffee bags are not accepted due to the composite materials.
So REUSE IS BEST, and by adopting a ‘bagless’ approach, you’re encouraging businesses to support more sustainable practices, changing attitudes towards our current throwaway society, and helping to build a future built on reuse practices.