Here on our blog, we’ve shared a lot about our roastery journey, our company values and how we like to brew our coffee. However, something we haven’t touched on just yet is our packaging journey - and without great packaging, our tasty, freshly roasted coffee just wouldn’t be the same.
As an environmentally conscious, and B Corp certified roastery, ensuring that we’re continually developing our products and practices to minimize our mark on the planet is something that is really important to us. Packaging is a widely discussed topic within the coffee community, with brands from all over the world coming together to discuss how best to reduce their carbon footprint. And whilst we've yet to find the perfect solution, it is something that we’ve been working on behind the scenes here at the roastery.
With so many eco-friendly buzzwords out there, it can be difficult to understand where companies really stand when it comes to packaging and sustainability. With that in mind, we thought that it would be a nice idea to talk you through our coffee packaging journey so far, how we have improved our practices over the years and our packaging goals for the future.
How our packaging journey began…
Our packaging journey started back in 2010, when we were plotting the beginnings of Dear Green. Our goal was to fill a gap in the local market by offering a fresh and high quality coffee. There wasn't any notable coffee available locally and we wanted to switch that up by adding value and by offering availability of and information about coffee origins! So we sourced exclusively specialty grade beans and prioritised it being roasted freshly, sealed in an airtight bag and displaying origin info and the date it was roasted on. This was groundbreaking at the time but oh so normal now.
Our coffee has always been so fresh that the coffee bag benefits from having a one way valve to allow the CO2 (expelled by the coffee during and after the roast process) to escape without allowing air in. As a result, all of our coffee has been packaged with these specifications since we launched in 2011!
Here’s why we continue to package our coffee this way -
Our bags must be airtight - Coffee is a fresh product. We want to trap the aromatics from the fresh roast right inside the bag to ensure our coffee is brewed in its most delicious state. Like many fresh food products, if oxygen permeates the cell structure, the product will start to stale and in the case of coffee the aromatics will be lost, the natural oils will dry out, qualitative flavours and aromas will lose intensity, become volatile and unwanted bitterness will predominate. What's more, if coffee isn't kept sealed, other products in a store cupboard, especially those with a high fat content could absorb the coffee aromas. We'll always ensure our coffee is supplied in an airtight state for this reason and importantly so that it is also in a sealed hygienic state.
Our customers must be able to reseal our bags - Fresh is always best! We roast every week day. Our coffee is packed straight from the roaster and is often posted the very same day. We don't sell our coffee if it's more than seven days from the roast date. After we’ve packed our beans into our bags, we heat seal them to maintain freshness - our packaging also has a reusable zip seal which means you can reuse the bag and don't need to decant into another vessel. This minimises the need for plastic canisters, jars or tubs. To retain freshness, we recommend that our customers squeeze out any air in the bag and reseal, ready for their next fresh brew!
Opaque packaging maintains coffee freshness - Ideally coffee should be stored at room temperature, away from extremes of temperature and away from light - our opaque packaging helps achieve this. Contrary to popular belief, coffee should never be kept in the fridge. Why not? Because the fridge is a dry environment which will dry out all of those delicious coffee oils. Bringing the coffee to room temperature after being in the fridge could also result in condensation. Moisture in the coffee will cause stale flavours. Condensation is also a reason to not use any transparent storage solution. We have avoided packing our Dear Green beans in clear bags, in bags with windows or in clear containers to avoid any risk of condensation and staling.
Dear Green gets … greener!
Time has moved on from those early decisions for Dear Green packaging which were all based around ensuring we had the best coffee provided in packaging which would maintain the quality. In all honesty, we have felt uncomfortable about our packaging for quite some time now and throughout this time, we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to switch things up. We've researched our options and discussed solutions with fellow roasters but in the end, we’ve always come up against obstacles to proceed. These have included;
Cost - As a small company we couldn't absorb the price of product development and manufacturing of a custom made solution.
Availability - We had to research the solution which met our quality remit but which also had the least environmental impact. Finding an ethical solution is a minefield and warrants a far longer exploration/explanation than this blog can offer. Suffice to say, here is a snippet of information on our findings and the informed choices we've made as a result.
After countless hours of coffee fuelled brainstorming and research sessions over the years, we have identified various solutions that could help us to minimise our packaging waste, however, every solution also comes with its own set of drawbacks and complications too. Here are a few options we have considered -
Compostable packaging - The idea of compostable packaging sounds great, but who has an industrial composter at home? We rest our case! The reality is that no home composting system is ever going to break down anything intended for an industrial strength plant. The responsibility then lies on our customers to collect their packaging and take it to their nearest composting plant. Unfortunately, this isn't a realistic solution, meaning that compostable packaging is often more of a problem than a solution.
Recyclable packaging - The differences in recycling guidelines across each council in Scotland, not to mention in the UK and beyond deem this solution impossible. If we sold coffee to just one area of Glasgow this could be an option for us. However, the reality is that we ship all across the UK and beyond meaning that often our packaging's final destination would be landfill and that would defeat the purpose. Not only that but the main recyclable material we would have to use, would be 100% single use plastic and that's a whole other conversation.
Recycled Packaging - If this was available to us it would definitely be a consideration, for sure. However, unfortunately, we haven't come across this as an option... hit us up if you can help us out!
Reusable - Reusable packaging is without a doubt the only solution to solve the environmental issues around the manufacture and disposal of packaging. So here's our dilemma. Do we create lots of vessels which are technically reusable but are harder to dispose of? This way we’d be creating more packaging dressed up as an ethical solution that a very small percentage of buyers would actually choose to reuse/refill. Essentially this would generate more CO2 to have more stuff then go to landfill or through a further recycling process.
The other option would be to scale our business back so that we are only supplying coffee to those who can visit us to refill. In which case we are buying less coffee from the coffee producers we support and have less requirement for jobs to pack coffee locally? Also, in times of Covid-19, when the roastery is closed to all visitors, this simply would not be feasible as safe practice from a public health perspective.
Biodegradable packaging (our current solution) - This is different from compostable in that it biodegrades in home composting, in landfill - or anywhere you like really, and doesn't require the high temperatures required in a composting facility! Hallelujah! If you check the bottom of our bags you'll notice we've opted for an 'Oxo-degradable' product. This became available to us in the last couple of years, had minimum order quantities which suited our volumes and there was also continual supply available so that we wouldn't run out of bags any time soon. This is not our ultimate solution as questions are already being asked about this product which includes polymers to break down the material. We knew this wasn't the final answer for us and we're back to the drawing board, watch out for phase 3 Dear Green packaging!
How we’re reducing our environmental impact
Although we’re still working on the perfect packaging solution to help reduce our impact on the planet, sustainability is something that we carefully consider in our business practices. Here are a few examples of how we’ve reduced our environmental impact;
Zero-waste, wholesale coffee tubs - We introduced reusable tubs to our local wholesale customers. Complete with vacuum seals to ensure quality and freshness, our tubs have already saved thousands of coffee bags over the past few years. If you are a cafe, looking for a waste-free, wholesale coffee solution, get in touch!
We reduce, reuse, recycle throughout our business practices. The impact of our coffee bags and postal packaging is as minimal as it can be in many other aspects, including stamping/printing bags instead of labelling, using paper tape, using recyclable paper envelopes and reusing wholesale cardboard delivery boxes. We're on a mission to be 100% plastic free and carbon neutral. Being a member of the B Corp community is providing us with the support and resources to help us achieve our goal!
We hosted the first ever single use cup- free coffee festival - Back in 2018, with the help from our friends at KeepCup, we hosted the first reusable only coffee festival which saved over 18,000 single use cups and inspired other festivals to adopt a waste-free approach. We have also maintained this format for each of our coffee festivals since.
We are ambassadors for Circular Glasgow - The circular economy is a direct challenge to the ‘take-make-waste’ mentality of the linear economy. In a circular economy waste is minimised and resources maximised through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, re-manufacturing, recycling and upcycling. Circular Glasgow is an initiative of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. It is a movement to inspire businesses of all sizes to innovate and become future-proof by adopting circular strategies. Check out our Circular guest blog here.
We monitor our carbon production - Our recent carbon audit tells us that our travels to source coffee and the journey of our coffee beans to the Dear Green roastery have little impact on our footprint in comparison to how our staff travel to work. The Cycle to Work Scheme has made bikes more affordable to staff who cycle when they can.
We help fund World Coffee Research - Each year we donate a % of our profits to World Coffee Research to invest in the sustainable future of the coffee plant.
Our packaging journey continues…
We know we can make a bigger impact on the world by scaling our business in order to buy more coffee and help producers earn more for their coffee. At Dear Green, our commitment will always be to coffee farmers, to our customers, to the environment and to our wonderful team. This is how we’ve operated from day one, and there’s definitely no turning back now. We are on a mission to provide delicious coffee to as many people as we can whilst having the least environmental impact and can't wait to share the next stage of our journey with you. Whilst we don't have the answer, we're most definitely working on our solution. Stay tuned... blog edits are pending!
This is an open conversation, we'd love to know your thoughts?