We’re committed to running Calendar as sustainably as possible, while providing the freshest, highest quality coffee. This week, we launched our all new fully compostable packaging, made from EN13132 certified materials. This means you can now include our pouches with your food waste and they’ll break down in an industrial composting facility within 12 weeks. We’re delighted to partner with two brilliant Irish companies, Fox Pack and Labels Tech, who are using the latest compostable packaging technology and who we feel are really leading the way in Europe.
This has been a long road for us and while this is a giant leap forward for Calendar, sourcing environmentally friendly alternatives for our packaging remains an ongoing project. We want to use this opportunity to share what we’ve learnt and why we believe compostable packaging is the future for our business.
Biodegradable vs Compostable
If something is biodegradable, it will eventually break down into smaller and smaller pieces through natural processes. Depending on what it is, it could take anywhere from six months to a thousand years to break down. This means that almost anything could technically be labelled ‘biodegradable’, because they’ll break down at some point in the future, whether they’re derived from nature, like a banana skin, or made from chemicals. Even some conventional plastics will eventually break down into smaller, sometimes toxic components - so biodegradable materials can be misleading and aren’t necessarily compostable.
Compostable materials are certified to break down completely into non-toxic components (water, carbon dioxide, and biomass) that won’t harm the environment, under the right conditions. The time it takes for something to break down depends largely on the product itself and the composting conditions. For anything to be legally labelled compostable, it has to be certified to break down in industrial composting facilities within 12 weeks.
Our previous packaging was made out of soft recyclable plastic, which is not currently recycled in Ireland. This means almost 70% of the pouches that left our roastery last year ended up in landfill or were burnt for energy, which wasn’t good enough for us. While hard plastics, glass, and aluminium are easily recycled in Ireland, every household and business is also provided with brown bins for organic waste. We decided to turn our focus to compostable, bio-based materials because compared to aluminium, plastic, or glass, they reduce the dependency on fossil fuels and are made from renewable resources. Advantages that still exist even if our bags end up in the wrong bin.
NatureFlex is an incredible material created by the geniuses at Futamura. They developed a way of converting wood pulp into plastic free, airtight packaging. The wood they use is from sustainably-managed plantations and the end product is entirely compostable. Our bags are made from three laminated materials, two of which are NatureFlex. The inner sealable layer, valve and zipper are also bio-based and compostable, but produced by a different manufacturer.
It’s important to understand the carbon footprint of these materials. If the manufacturing process of bio-based materials is not energy efficient, over their lifetime, they could be no better for the environment than their plastic alternatives. At the moment, Natureflex materials have a higher carbon footprint than similar plastic alternatives, but a lower footprint compared to aluminium and glass. If the demand for these materials continues to grow, which we believe it will, it’s predicted the carbon footprint of these laminates will be lower than its plastic alternatives by 2023.
Finding a compostable alternative for our labels was one of our biggest challenges. We originally wanted to find a blank roll, and continue printing all our labels in-house. We tested every compostable label we could find, and we couldn’t achieve a high quality print using a regular inkjet printer. We eventually decided to outsource our printing and although it takes a bit more organisation and planning, we’re really happy with the result. Labels Tech uses non-toxic inks on FSC-certified wood pulp, and our labels are coated with BioTAK, the world's first certified plant-based compostable adhesive.
While all the components of these pouches and its labels are certified compostable, the bag as a whole is still pending certification. For this reason, we can’t include the internationally recognised seedling logo on our packaging just yet. We’ve been assured by Foxpack that these pouches can be disposed of with your food waste, but without the seedling logo, we’re worried they’re not easily distinguishable from conventional plastics and might be rejected at the composting facilities. These bags are clearly labelled as compostable, but our next goal is to obtain the certification for the entire pouch.
Single-use packaging should always be the last resort, which is why we’ll keep investing in reusable alternatives - whether in the form of buckets for wholesale customers, or creating a refillable jar for home brewers. It’s hard to imagine our business will ever be able to eliminate single use packaging all together, but for now we are proud to have moved away from plastic and investing in compostable materials is the best decision we can make for our business and the environment at this time.