Sustainable Coffee Packaging: From Reusable Bags to Cups You Can Eat

Rachel Lark - April 3, 2023

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Many people rank coffee among their favorite beverages, all while knowing that the drink has dark aspects, such as human rights violations and farming practices that hurt the planet. However, the beloved cup of Joe can have a brighter future, thanks in part to changes like sustainable coffee packaging and companies that donate some of their profits to good causes. Let’s take a closer look at how businesses can prioritize sustainability in packaging. 

What Options Exist in Sustainable Coffee Packaging?

A handy thing to keep in mind is that “sustainable” can have many definitions in the world of coffee packaging. Sometimes, it consists of companies making relatively minor changes, such as reducing the size of a coffee bag, making it require fewer resources to make. Alternatively, a company might change things so a higher percentage of the container features recycled materials. Those are steps in the right direction, but many people may rightfully argue they don’t go far enough. 

Fortunately, some companies take significantly more creative steps when exploring the possibilities of sustainable coffee packaging. 

Reusable Coffee Bags

One option is to encourage customers to bring reusable bags when they buy freshly ground coffee from their favorite local shops. The Bean Bag is a company that sells cloth bags for that very purpose. The company also pays its employees a living wage and ensures they have safe, clean working conditions. 

Although that brand offers various styles, coffee shops can also partner with them to have their logo printed on the bags. That’s a great way for businesses to show they’re serious about sustainable coffee packaging while making their brands more visible among the communities where they operate.

Opportunities also exist to give customers discounts on their ground coffee or beans if they bring in the reusable bags. That gets them into the habit of using sustainable coffee packaging and reduces the disposable packaging the coffee shop must use. 

Elsewhere, Póca — an Irish-based company — made another plastic-free option. This bag features silicone and aluminum materials. More specifically, the aluminum gets used in a clip that goes on the top of the bag. It keeps the container securely closed but also acts as a one-way valve that lets people sniff the coffee’s aroma before buying it. 

Reusable Coffee Brewers

Some companies offer a slightly different approach to sustainable coffee packaging by creating options that let people brew their beverages in the packaging. Making your coffee at home is one practical way to enjoy the drink more sustainably. 

Coffee brewers are great when you don’t have a coffee maker readily available — such as while camping or traveling — or maybe don’t own one at all. The Brew Company is a Danish business that has sustainability at its core. For example, the enterprise has offset 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide per month since June 2019. It also sources its beans from small-scale, independent coffee farmers located worldwide. 

The Brew Company’s Coffeebrewers are one of its signature items. They come filled with a coffee of your choice. All you need to do is add hot water and wait a few minutes. Then, start enjoying your coffee by pouring it from the Coffeebrewer into a mug. The integrated spout on the package makes that easy. 

You can reuse each Coffeebrewer by rinsing it out and refilling it with your favorite ground coffee. Then, when you’re ready to recycle it, do that the same way you would if the Coffeebrewer were a milk carton. 

Embracing the Move Away From Disposable Coffee Cups

As people become more interested in sustainable coffee packaging, they often become less willing to drink the beverages from containers they’ll only use once. French legislators even passed a law that phases out single-use plastics. The country is aiming to stop using those materials by 2040. How does this law affect coffee?

It prohibits single-use plastics for coffee stirrers and lids, for a start. Also, stores must give customers a more reasonable price for beverages served in reusable cups people bring to the establishment. 

Research conducted with Australian consumers found them more likely to drink from reusable cups if they saw others doing it or if businesses charged a fee for disposable containers. It may take a while for the majority of people to stop using throwaway cups when they enjoy their coffees. 

However, there are still some creative efforts underway to limit the coffee cups that people discard. The Kreis Cup is a great example. It’s a reusable option made from recycled coffee grounds and plant-based materials. As you might expect, this forward-thinking container even features the distinctive coffee smell. 

People are also developing edible coffee cups, eliminating the need to throw anything away. Many of them are slightly sweet with a wafer-like texture. One company that offers them went through 250 versions to find the right recipe. 

Luckily, the hard work paid off because the owners found an option that stays crispy for 40 minutes, even when filled with liquid. It also breaks down in less than 14 days if coffee lovers put it in their gardens or compost piles rather than eating the cup. The cup company also made a chocolate-dipped version, and representatives are considering additional flavors. 

Switch to Sustainable Coffee Packaging When Possible

Many people become frustrated when they see supermarket shelves filled with coffees sold in disposable containers. However, some coffee companies — typically smaller establishments — still sell their products in more durable options you can reuse. Jittery Joe’s is a Georgia-based coffee brand selling most of its coffees in metal containers. 

There’s also Missing Bean Coffee Roasters, which offers a coffee refill service for people hoping to cut down on waste. Individuals who sign up for it get refills sent to their doorsteps in unbranded, compostable containers. The idea is that people will transfer them directly from the shipping container to reusable coffee canisters they already own. However, the company only delivers to people based in the United Kingdom for now. 

However, Trader Joe’s — perhaps a brand more familiar to you — sold one of its coffees in that type of container, too. It eventually discontinued that packaging type and switched to bags. That example shows why it’s so important to give positive feedback when companies opt for more sustainable coffee packaging. 

Blends sold in sustainable coffee packaging seem like niche items in some markets. That’s especially true if you live in a smaller town or a place without any shops prioritizing zero or low-waste operations. But the more it becomes clear that today’s consumers want coffee packaging that’s better for the planet, the more likely companies will offer it. 

Consider Reusing Packaging Intended for One Use

A final thing to keep in mind is that you can make coffee packaging more sustainable by making conscious choices about what you do with it when the container is empty. For example, many coffee packages have zip closures for freshness. Think about storing other goods inside instead of tossing a package into the garbage after using all the coffee. 

Many things you do in life — even if they’re as seemingly simple as drinking a cup of coffee — can help contribute to a more sustainable future and a healthier planet. Would you like other tips about how to do your part? Subscribe to to get our latest content! 

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About the author

Rachel Lark

Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.