What's the Best Material for Coffee Packaging?
Alejandro Escobar, founder and owner of Pare de Dormir, finds value for his business, his customers, and the environment through a reusable packaging solution.
Recycling is an important step in practicing sustainability, but it is an end-of-life action, meaning it’s a step you take when a product is done being used. Rather than solely focus on recycling, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourages businesses and individuals to think about source reduction: making and using fewer things to begin with.
There are hundreds of small ways most of us do this every day. From replacing to-go coffee cups with reusable glass mugs – Umeko Motoyoshi previous highlighted Oddly Correct’s move to glass jars for their to-go cups - - reducing the amount of waste we produce is more impactful than simply focusing on recycling. At businesses like Pare de Dormir in Mexico City, they’re taking active steps to reduce the number of coffee bags they produce and put into the supply stream.
FROM CONTAINER TO CONTAINER
Alejandro Escobar started roasting coffee for Pare de Dormir a few months ago and saw the amount of waste that was created from coffee bags. “We had several challenges to overcome when we first opened,” he says. “Traditional coffee packaging is still a good option to supply the product … but in the end, our customers, when they finished their coffee, would throw away the bags and they would go into the trash. Therefore, we’re contributing to generating more garbage, and we did not like that.”
Instead of changing consumer habits for people he might not see or interact with every day, Alejandro focused on wholesale clients, who he sold more coffee to in larger quantities. “The coffee shops that buy more coffee from us - in bulk for their coffee shops - do not need a fancy presentation,” he says.
Traditionally, wholesale coffee is delivered to shops in 5-lb bags, but Alejandro experimented with taking more control of the relationship between his suppliers and the coffees he provided. “Since the coffee goes directly to the grinder hopper, we deliver roasted coffee in an airtight container with a capacity of seven kilos, which is not thrown away and can continue to be refilled,” he says.
WE’RE USED TO REUSABLE
Single-use plastic bags have been banned in eight states, and many stores offer discounts for people who bring in their own bags. Reusable bags are a familiar mode of operating, so Alejandro decided to borrow from that model to cut out packaging for his wholesale clients. “Our clients have one container, and we buy another per client, so we have two containers to switch out every time we deliver new coffee,” he says. “Before, folks would get a bag of coffee, a postcard with traceability information of our coffee, and a tin tie. Now, we generate a digital information sheet which we send to our clients.”
Reducing packaging needs for wholesale clients has also meant that Alejandro could offer coffee at a better price. “We avoided the expense of coffee bags, and therefore could give our customers a better price,” he says. He also passed those savings on to his retail customers, even though he still sells individual bags of coffee in traditional bags.
Alejandro hopes to find a way to package coffee for retail consumers but acknowledges this is a difficult challenge. “We continue to think of improvements we can make to generate less waste and be more sustainable, but sometimes it’s more difficult for the final consumer to accept a container as an option for packaging,” he says. However, Alejandro’s example shows that by focusing on what you do have control over - your interactions with wholesale clients versus the actions of at-home consumers - and thinking more broadly about sustainability, you can help generate simple actions that can make a tangible impact that trickles down through other parts of your business.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashley Rodriguez is a writer and host of the podcast Boss Barista. She writes about workplace equity and employee empowerment in her weekly newsletter.