Here at MCC - we’re all about bringing the most delicious, highest quality coffee to you at home, and a big part of that involves shipping and packaging. Being serious about coffee means being serious about the environment where coffee grows - which is why we’ve redesigned our packaging to be more environmentally friendly than the traditional coffee packaging of the past.
Why Change The Packaging?
First off - the way that we do business means we don’t really need to use traditional packaging. Standard coffee bags were designed with a valve and foil lining to allow coffee to sit on a shelf at a grocery store for years in full sunlight without rupturing or damaging the coffee. But since we ship our coffee the day it's roasted and club members open our coffees 4 to 6 days later to brew, it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to use a bag designed for long-term shelf storage. We have the freedom to do things differently.
Reducing Waste & Fuel Consumption
Traditional mixed construction coffee bags - usually some combination of foil, paper, and plastic - are impossible to recycle because of their layered construction. Their valves and zip-closures are plastic-heavy, and "compostable" versions almost always require industrial facilities that next to no cities in the US have available. The long and short of this is that most coffee packaging - compostable or not - ends up in land-fills. We wanted to find a way to increase the recyclability of our packaging and cut down on plastic headed to landfills even if it doesn't get recycled.
Another part of the puzzle is fuel consumption. Any business taking part in high-volume shipping is responsible for fuel used by delivery trucks and planes, and the resulting greenhouse gases. We are at a point where we are shipping a large number of packages with each roast, so the overall weight and volume of our packaging comes into play. We wanted to find a way to minimize the size and weight of our packages, so that delivery vehicles can transport them as efficiently as possible.
Our new packaging utilizes a vac-sealed pouch and a recyclable outer mailer to achieve these goals. It may look a little space-age compared to a traditional coffee bag - but this new pouch uses about 50% less plastic than our previous multi-layer bag - and this time it's #4 recyclable. We encourage you to read more about plastic film recycling here - it's a bit more complicated than just using your recycling bin, but if it's available in your area it's a really great way to make an impact!
Our new packaging is also lighter-weight and much more space efficient than the bulky cardboard boxes we were using previously - allowing our packages to take up less space and reduce weight on delivery vehicles. Buy cutting just 2oz of packaging from each shipment, we can save around 3000lbs of CO2 per year!
But wait - I thought specialty coffee needed the valve?
It's pretty popular - yes - but for short-term storage it doesn't really do much. The main function the valve serves is to keep coffee bags from rupturing as gas emitted by the roasted beans builds up over time. Since we're shipping everything fresh and our members are brewing fresh - our beans don't sit in the packaging long enough to cause any problems. This lets us skip the plastic-heavy valve, which even on many "compostable" coffee bags needs to be removed and trashed anyways.
Why isn't anyone else doing this?
Well, for starters the vacuum sealing really only works because our subscription is meant to be so fresh. If you were to stack these pouches on a shelf in a grocery store for months, the pouches would go slack as the beans off-gas. And we aren't the only coffee people doing this! We actually got the idea from some of the high-end green coffee beans we roast, which come vacuum-packaged in 30kg blocks from origin. It's a very space-efficient way to ship coffee beans, and solves the need for a moisture-barrier. Some other roasters are starting to explore vacuum-sealing as an alternative to more costly nitrogen flushing. There does seem to be a small increase in flavor quality over time - we've found that if you don't open the pouch, the coffee will stay tasting fresh for about a month as opposed to the typical ~2 weeks.
We’re really excited about this change, and how it allows the club to further reflect the values of our members - who love great coffee and want to help keep it growing happily in regions all over the world.
Obviously, this is just the first step for us as well. We're keeping tabs on packaging technology, and as more biodegradable and compostable films and options become available, we're looking forward to incorporating them into the club's approach. Sustainability is an on-going practice - and making the switch to valveless packaging is just the first in what we hope will be many actions to reduce our impact on the planet and keep the delicious coffees headed your way.