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Are traditional coffee bags recyclable?

Are traditional coffee bags recyclable?

A quick chat with Aaron our happy™ supply chain fellow

We’ve received some great questions from a few coffee lovers out there across the world wide interwebs, so we’re going to get some help from Aaron to do our best to answer them.  

Damon (aka, the happy™ marketer): Let’s start with a layup: Aaron, why did you sign up to join Craig and Robert on this journey to start happy?

Aaron: Craig and I have worked together in the past; when he talked about this opportunity, I really couldn’t say no;I love to create, tinker and make things better, I love a good challenge and love to push the boundaries of what is possible, and oh yeah, I absolutely love joining from the get-go was a complete no-brainer.

Damon: Free coffee makes sense to me. Now for some tougher questions: Can you help us understand some of the challenges with existing coffee packaging? Specifically, are coffee bags recyclable?

Aaron: Let’s get right into it. A huge amount of coffee packaging is sold in bags that contain layers of metal that most people don't even realize are there and many contain tin ties to help reseal the package; both render the package non-recyclable and destined to landfill. 

Damon: Yikes - So, why don’t we have compostable and recyclable bags?

Aaron: Compostable and recyclable bags can and do exist, but they’re  a significant challenge for the industry. In order to keep the coffee fresh, you need layers of foil or plastic to protect the coffee from going stale. This makes compostable and recyclable coffee bags incredibly difficult to produce, and even more difficult to recycle.

Damon: So a compostable or recyclable paper coffee bag would have stale coffee pretty quickly…and that’s why we don’t see that in our grocery stores?

Aaron: Yes, that’s the primary problem with paper-only bags–maintaining freshness. And in terms of the multilayer bags that offer recycling claims, we end up with packages that can only be recycled in store drop off locations and a handful of commercial recycling sites, which isn’t convenient for the bulk of consumers. In order to be recyclable, these bags would need to be made with a single material, and yet would need additional properties in order to keep coffee fresh. That being said, we are working towards using recycled content, recyclable and compostable options for our future packaging, so stay tuned.

Damon: We know that plastic isn’t the perfect material for anything, but is there a perfect solution yet? 

Aaron: Unfortunately no, there is no one perfect solution. Every material has to be chosen carefully with a lot of factors in mind. It’s about giving the consumer options and allowing them to make a good choice on what to do with the package once they’re done. The straightforward  goal is to keep things out of landfills.

Damon: Happy’s ground and whole bean coffee’s come in a plastic tub. Why go with more plastic for the packaging?

Aaron: We spent a lot of time reviewing and assessing various materials when it came to our signature launch package. At the end of the day, we went with virgin plastic for a few reasons. For starters, with food-grade products, post-consumer-recycled material is limited in supply, limited in how much can be used in the package, as well as cost prohibitive. We wanted a material that could be 100% curbside-recycled vs. a material that could only be recycled if dropped off at a secondary location. That’s inconvenient for most folks, and if we’re being honest, unlikely to really happen. We found labels for the product that were also 100% curbside recyclable, which we’re really excited about; some packs ask folks to remove the label before recycling, and eliminating another step in order to make recycling easier was important to us. The size and shape of the pack, along with it being virgin plastic, also make it economically attractive to recyclers…most folks forget that recycling and processing waste is also a business, so proving recyclers with a shape and material makeup from which they can also profit needs to be considered, and helps ensure the package will make its way into the recycling stream for long term benefit.

Damon: So sounds like plastic wins this round. Thanks for guiding us through the ins-and-outs of recycling coffee packaging, Aaron!

If you have any questions for Aaron or the rest of the happy team, please email us at, we love to hear from you!

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