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Are cold brew cartons a sustainable form of packaging? 

The demand for high-quality cold brew coffee has surged, with estimates suggesting that 15% of global coffee is now consumed cold. Driven by its smooth flavour and convenient packaging, cold brew coffee has become a hit for younger, on-the-go consumers craving high-quality caffeine. 

Another growing trend is the number of eco-conscious consumers who expect sustainable packaging and low-impact products. With this rise in eco-friendly expectations, cold brew coffee packaging must meet today’s current demands. Cold brew cartons, alongside many other environmentally conscious options, have become one of the go-to options for roasters globally. 

Beverage cartons are traditionally made from a combination of paperboard, plastic, and even aluminium. However, this mix of packaging materials may leave consumers wondering how sustainable cold brew cartons truly are. 

I spoke with Matt Bachman of Wandering Bear Coffee Co., and Rafael Bravo of CUMBÉ Coffee Roasters to gain a comprehensive understanding of the sustainability of cold brew cartons. 

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How sustainable are cold brew cartons?

Eco-friendly cold brew cartons are typically made from responsibly sourced paperboard. Manufacturers combine this renewable resource derived from trees with a plant- or water-based coating to form a sustainable alternative to traditional plastic bottles.

A type of paperboard is corrugated cardboard, which is a sturdy packaging material made of three layers of kraft paper. Kraft paper is a widely manufactured, extremely strong type of paper and is commonly used in packaging because of its strength, sustainability, and affordability. 

Kraft paper is made from softwood trees, where wood chips are pulped and then made into thick paper rolls. As a result, the paper is incredibly strong and can resist tearing, bursting, and splitting. These qualities make it ideally suited to packaging. Kraft paper also doubles as a sustainable, renewable material. 

When investing in cold brew coffee cartons, it’s essential to consider the entire manufacturing process to ensure their complete sustainability. Each step of the process, from how materials are sourced to how they’re made and transported, contributes to its overall carbon footprint. 

Wandering Bear offers smooth cold brew on tap to both homes and offices. CEO and co-founder, Matt explains that the brand’s cold brew cartons deliver many sustainability benefits at each stage of the packaging life cycle.

“This ranges from transportation emission advantages on both inbound and outbound ends of our supply chain, as well as a number of sustainable manufacturing practices of the cartons themselves,” Matt explains. “For instance, renewable paper or factories that run on 100% renewable energy.

“The cartons are made with layers of material, including paperboard, polymers (including renewable plant-based polymers where possible), and aluminum,” he adds. “These layers come together to protect the quality, nutritional value, and taste of the products inside.”

Matt explains that the main component of Wandering Bear’s cartons (between 70% and 80%) is made from FSC®-certified forests and other controlled sources. “This means that all the wood fibre in our paperboard comes from forests independently certified as being managed in accordance with the principles of sustainable forest management and can, therefore, be traced,” he says. 

“Wherever possible for our cartons, we use plastic polymers made from responsibly sourced sugarcane: a renewable resource.”

How to dispose of cold brew coffee cartons responsibly

While it’s advisable to invest in cold brew cartons lined with kraft paper to ensure their complete sustainability, it may not be feasible for all brands. However, there are still steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint by ensuring sound recycling practices. 

Consumers need clear, simple instructions on how to dispose of these cartons correctly to ensure they’re recycled properly. This can be anything from an easy-to-scan quick response (QR) code to a packaging return programme. 

It’s clear that sustainability has become a priority in consumer shopping habits. Research shows that over 40% of consumers admit to choosing brands that prioritise eco-friendly values and practices, while 34% want to ‘cancel’ brands over ethical concerns. 

Brands can take it upon themselves to help guide consumers on proper separation and recycling practices. This can reduce your in-store carbon footprint while appealing to eco-friendly consumers. 

Rafael, the founder of CUMBÉ Coffee Roasters, prides himself on his coffee shop’s efforts to add sustainability to every step it can. 

“At CUMBÉ, we educate our customers about the importance of sustainability within our establishments,” he says. “We actively participate in separating packaging and engage in recycling programmes that transform recyclable materials into roofing for houses.

“We also deliver our coffee throughout the city by bicycle, tracking the carbon footprint,” he adds. “We constantly encourage our customers to support these programmes and reduce their use of single-use plastics by enjoying their drinks on site.”

Regardless of how your cold brew coffee cartons are lined, consumers should be advised to remove any plastic caps or lids before recycling. That said, some carton lids can be recycled if the recycling facility has the capacity and workload to separate the layers. However, it’s best practice to train consumers to separate this in advance. 

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Cartons for cold brew coffee: The benefits

Although the multi-layer construction of cold brew cartons ensures coffee remains fresh, it also brings with it challenges of communicating sound separation and recycling practices to consumers. However, despite the recycling and separation challenges, which are easy to overcome, cold brew coffee cartons offer a magnitude of note-worthy advantages. 

From a lower carbon footprint in comparison to glass or metal containers to a decent reduction in fuel consumption during transportation due to their lighter weight. 

At Cold Brew Pak, our cold brew cartons are lightweight, recyclable, and fully customisable to suit your branding needs. They are made from responsibly sourced cardboard and can be combined with a plant or water-based coating. 

Our cold brew cartons are available in five sizes: 100ml, 200ml, 250ml, 500ml, and 1 litre. They can also be made in a variety of shapes, such as square or slim, with round or domed edges.  

Header image courtesy of Wandering Bear Coffee Co.

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About the author

Holly Szakal is a Melbourne-based copy and content writer and is deeply immersed in her city's vibrant specialty coffee culture. She infuses the rich aromas of the specialty coffee scene by delivering compelling narratives on the industry's current events.