August 16, 2022

How can you minimise the environmental impact of green coffee storage?


There are a number of factors to consider when storing green coffee. Understandably, preserving freshness is one of the most important, as green beans are particularly sensitive to external factors – including temperature and moisture.

Maintaining freshness is an essential part of green coffee storage, but minimising environmental damage at this stage of the supply chain is also crucial – especially as the demand for more sustainable coffee grows.

So, how can green coffee buyers and traders keep their green coffee properly stored while also staying sustainable? To find out, I spoke to three coffee professionals who work with Fibtex, a company which produces and distributes coffee packaging and works in Colombia and Peru. Read on to find out what they said about minimising the environmental impact of green coffee storage.

You may also like our article on how long green coffee stays fresh for.

jute coffee bags stacked in a warehouse

Understanding the environmental impact of green coffee storage

Packaging and proper storage play a key role in preserving green coffee freshness.

When green coffee is shipped, it is usually packaged in bags which are strapped to wooden pallets. This helps to create a more efficient means of transporting the coffee.

Jute & fique

Jute and fique bags (or sacks) are the most traditional forms of packaging for green coffee. In some countries, such as Colombia and Peru, fique is used; this is a similar natural fibre to jute which can be used for packaging when dried.

Bags made from these plant materials are fully biodegradable, making them an environmentally-friendly option for green coffee packaging.

María Patricia Berrío Romero is the sustainability director of Fibtex, a company that distributes high-barrier hermetic GrainPro packaging in Colombia and Peru. The company is also a trade representative for Pinhalense and Carmomaq and a manufacturer of its own 100% recyclable and reusable SUMMA “big bags”.

She tells me that even though jute and fique are technically biodegradable, this largely depends on how the material is disposed of.

“[If these bags go to landfill], it is difficult for them to biodegrade correctly,” she explains.

This is because landfill conditions generally lack optimal levels of sunlight and oxygen, which means it can be anywhere from difficult to impossible to correctly dispose of biodegradable materials.

What’s more, as these materials are permeable, they are often not the best option for maximum freshness.

“Although these bags are designed to protect coffee, the beans can quickly become contaminated if the bags are stored improperly,” she says. “The natural fibres increase the risk of contamination from odours that can negatively affect coffee’s organoleptic characteristics.”

Traditional plastic bags

To combat these issues, exporters usually include another layer of material inside jute and fique bags as an extra precaution. These can be standard plastic shipping liners or GrainPro bags, for instance.

GrainPro bags in particular are popular because they can be hermetically sealed. This effectively creates an airtight barrier which protects green coffee from external factors, like moisture and heat, as well as preventing oxidation.

Furthermore, if these bags are used in conjunction with larger sacks instead of jute or fique bags, they can hold more coffee. Standard coffee bags can hold between 60kg and 70kg of coffee, whereas large plastic bags and liners can fit anywhere between 1 tonne to 20 tonnes of green beans.

However, the increase in plastic use means more single-use waste is produced from green coffee packaging.

“Once coffee reaches its destination, the GrainPro bags are often disposed of,” María Patricia tells me. “These plastics are usually not recycled or reused, so they are incinerated or end up in landfill, which means they take years to decompose,” she adds.

Sergio Campuzano Diaz is the General Manager for Fibtex.

“Plastics are made from a mixture of different resins, so it’s difficult to [separate them] and dispose of the materials correctly – especially in places where there are less established circular economy models,” he says.

a man's hand moving through green coffee

Reducing the environmental impact of green coffee storage

Now more than ever, there is a growing demand for sustainably-produced coffee.

More and more roasters are using recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable materials in their retail coffee packaging, as well as using more recyclable or reusable takeaway coffee cups. To add to this, more sustainable practices are being implemented across coffee farms, helping to reduce overall carbon emissions in the supply chain.

As a result, minimising the carbon footprint of green coffee storage – while still focusing on the preservation of freshness – is becoming a key topic.

Ultimately, this means green coffee traders and buyers are focusing on finding sustainable packaging options.

Fibtex’s packaging is made with 100% recyclable resins,” María Patricia says. “We distribute GrainPro polyethylene packaging, as well as our own recyclable and reusable SUMMA polypropylene range, which includes big bags and bulk container packaging.

“We work closely with our allies and other stakeholders to process and recycle plastic; when polyethylene is processed separately from other types of plastic, it can be reused many times in a number of different products.”

As well as this, María Patricia explains that Fibtex practises carbon offsetting. She explains that this is part of Fibtex’s “holistic, solutions-focused approach” which is committed to preserving both quality and the environment.

To balance its carbon emissions, the company also runs an environmentally-friendly regenerative restoration initiative which plants native trees in the El Amparo nature reserve, located in the Eastern Plains region of Colombia.

The use of more reusable and recyclable packaging has become somewhat essential as part of the push for coffee companies to become certified carbon neutral.

María Patricia and Sergio tell me that Fibtex is in the process of reaching “net zero” emissions and receiving B Corp certification. B Corps are businesses which are deemed to meet high standards of social and environmental responsibility.

María Patricia also highlights that preserving the quality of coffee is vital from a sustainability perspective, as the two factors are interconnected. Therefore, using packaging that promotes a more sustainable transformation is key.

“[Fibtex’s packaging] ensures the optimal conditions to protect coffee from external factors, such as humidity, temperature, and oxygen, as well as mitigating the presence of pests and mould,” she says.

Fibtex GrainPro bags placed in front of jute bags

Can green coffee storage be plastic neutral?

Single-use materials have become a major topic of debate in many industries, including the coffee sector. The move away from single-use plastics is further exacerbated by a number of impending bans on these types of materials, including in the UK and Europe.

Sergio tells me about how Fibtex uses a circular economy approach throughout its manufacturing process, which helps to reduce the levels of plastic waste produced.

“We [adopt a circular economy model to reuse and recycle the plastic waste we produce],” he says. “This means fewer ‘virgin’ materials are used, as well as fewer natural resources, during the manufacture of these materials.

“Our packaging solutions are made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and polypropylene (PP), both of which are 100% recyclable and reusable,” Sergio adds.

Through its own dedicated programme, Fibtex collects plastic waste from companies in Colombia and Peru, which includes PP and LDPE bags and fibres. The plastic waste is then recycled into pellets, which can be used in a number of different ways. In the future, the aim is that this will be used to create plastic-neutral packaging.

Carlos Felipe Torres Triana is the Project Coordinator for Clima Soluciones, a Colombian company which measures the carbon footprint of companies which are looking to be more sustainable.

He tells me that Fibtex has been working with Clima Soluciones to measure carbon footprint through the CarbonBox app.

“The app can [show companies how to optimise] processes to improve their carbon footprints, as well as tracking their voluntary carbon offsets,” he says.

Carbon offsetting and insetting have understandably become more prevalent concepts in the coffee supply chain over the past few years. Essentially, companies can invest in either their supply chains or others’ to reduce their carbon footprint – even if it is somewhere else in the industry.

María Patricia explains that there are a number of other ways by which Fibtex manages its carbon emissions.

“In an effort to reach net zero, we make the active decision to partner where we can with carbon neutral companies,” she says. “We work with companies which have a vision that aligns with ours.

“This means, where possible, if we are going to travel, we will travel in a way which minimises environmental impact.”

One of the most common ways to do this is through environmental initiatives. Fibtex’s work at Reserva Natural El Amparo in Colombia is a great example of this, but María Patricia explains that this restoration project is inherently tied to the plastic provided by other companies.

“If one of our allies gives us plastic waste, we plant 40 trees per tonne,” she explains. “When they buy bags from us, we plant 25 trees per tonne. This helps them manage their carbon emissions, as well as balancing out ours in an effort to reach net zero.”

María Patricia concludes by explaining that Fibtex operates in accordance with three key pillars: “These are a sustainable culture, a focus on the plastics economy and responsible disposal, and a wider restoration programme.”

pouring green coffee beans into a metal container

There’s no doubt that the demand for sustainable coffee will continue to grow in the future. This means that it is now more important than ever for coffee companies to create a strategy for lowering their emissions.

However, this doesn’t mean that quality should be sacrificed, especially when it comes to green coffee storage solutions. By opting for more sustainable high-barrier materials, traders and producers can maintain freshness while also keeping environmental impact to a minimum.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on how you should store small quantities of green coffee.

Photo credits: Fibtex

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Please note: Fibtex is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.

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