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Plastic packaging has come a long way since it first appeared in the 1950s. When it entered the market, conventional plastic (made from petroleum-based raw materials), was celebrated as the solution to packaging for everything.
However, growing awareness of its slow decomposition and the discovery of microplastic pollution in oceans have led manufacturers across the world to look for more eco-friendly alternatives.
One of these alternatives is the bioplastic polylactic acid, or PLA. Biodegradable, cost-effective, and easy to produce, it’s become a popular choice for packaging goods of every kind.
So what is PLA?
PLA is one of the most highly produced bioplastics in the world, and is found in everything, from textiles to cosmetics. It is toxin-free, which has made it popular in the food and beverage industry where it is commonly used to package a wide variety of items, including coffee.
PLA is made from the fermentation of carbohydrates from renewable resources such as maize, cornstarch, and sugarcane. The fermentation produces resin filaments that have similar characteristics to petroleum-based plastic.
One of the principal benefits of PLA is that it is significantly more eco-friendly than its petroleum-based counterpart. While the manufacture of conventional plastic is estimated to use as much as 200,000 barrels of oil a day in the US alone, PLA is made from renewable and compostable sources.
The production of PLA also involves significantly less energy. One study suggests that switching from petroleum-based to corn-based plastics would cut US greenhouse gas emissions by a quarter.
In controlled composting environments, PLA-based products can take as little as 90 days to decompose, in contrast to a 1,000 years for conventional plastics. This has made it an attractive option for eco-conscious manufacturers across a number of sectors.
We want packaging that preserves the quality of our coffee but also aligns with our sustainable values and using packaging made from PLA ticks both of these boxes. Like traditional foil-lined bags, PLA coffee packaging ensures the product is kept fresh, yet it is considerably more eco-friendly. When a foil-lined bag is thrown away, it can take decades to decompose, compared to the few months it takes for PLA to do so.
PLA packaging has its limitations, although it requires high heat and moisture to effectively decompose, PLA is best for coffee that will be quickly consumed. It's lifespan is shorter than other plastics therefore PLA should be used for products that will be consumed less than six months which is why we use it for our 200g bags only (although it's quite easy to get through a kilo in 2 weeks!, these bags are recyclable).