Dear Peak State Customers,
Since Peak State’s origin, sustainability has been core to our mission. As stated, we exist to “use business for environmental good”, not only by ensuring that we’re minimizing harm to the planet, but by running a business that aspires to actually benefit and support it.
One way we do this is through our supply chain, working exclusively with organic and FairTrade-certified farmers who grow coffee in sustainable and natural ways. Another way we’ve done this is through the introduction of our completely home-compostable coffee bean packaging, which has put us at the forefront of the coffee industry in terms of sustainability for the last three years.
But we are always learning, and recently, it’s become clear to us that while our current compostable packaging was (and is) debatably cutting-edge, compostable packaging still comes with certain challenges that we can’t find a way to overcome – despite positive perceptions.
Which is why we’ve made the decision to move away from compostable packaging.
In the spirit of full transparency, I’m sharing all the details about why we’re making this switch, the limitations of compostable packaging, and we’re also spilling the beans on our new, alternative sustainable packaging solution.
So, pour yourself a cup and read on to learn the details.
Peak State’s Approach to Sustainability
As part of our philosophy of Radical Sustainability, we take responsibility for the lifecycle and end-of-life of products.
When we consider “sustainability”, we take into consideration the full picture: soil, water and land use, emissions, resource efficiency, practicality, accessibility, and circularity, as well as how easy it is for the consumer to make a sustainable choice with our products once they’re out of our hands. We can’t control what people do, but we can do our part to make the sustainable choice the default choice, and shift the weight of the responsibility that is far too often placed on the consumer back to ourselves.
Overall, our mission is to improve the status quo on sustainability. In order to succeed, we can’t afford to settle – as new technology and research become available, we need to actively listen, evaluate efficiency, and improve, and a huge part of that is admitting to ourselves when the methods we believed in are not the best ones out there.
And that’s where we have found ourselves with compostable packaging: not the best option.
The Downsides of Compostable Packaging
Compostable packaging seemed like a great idea at first. Composting organic matter, in general, is very important, and we believe that everyone should compost – in the right conditions, compostable materials decompose into nutrients that help to enrich the soil and benefit natural ecosystems. No litter, no emissions, just nature doing what it does best.
But the reality of compostable packaging is more complex than that, and as we continued to innovate and educate ourselves, we realized that while organic matter like food scraps is amazing to compost and really does work, compostable packaging is a little bit different.
Ideal Composting Conditions for Packaging are Rare
As we mentioned, composting needs specific conditions to work. Most packaging that is rated ‘compostable’ or ‘home-compostable’ has been given this label after tests done in labs with ideal conditions. But it’s very difficult for most homes to recreate these perfect conditions, and many of the composting facilities around the country don’t have the technology or resources to recreate them either.
Which means that compostable packaging doesn’t always break down, even though it technically could.
Peak State’s home-compostable packaging is one of the few that does actually break down in a home environment under optimal conditions – check out this video for proof!
Even so, since the composting industry was not built to accommodate this kind of packaging at scale, they’ve caused a truckload of problems and many facilities have stopped accepting them altogether. Our own composting facility here in Boulder, for example, stopped accepting compostable packaging earlier this spring.
And since not everyone has a compost at home, the only way they could compost the packaging is by sending it to their local municipality. Now that many no longer have that option, compostable packaging has become a less accessible and more difficult option for many of our customers at the end of the product’s life.
Compost Contamination Issues
“Wishcomposting” (the act of putting things in the compost bin that are not compostable), is worse than “wishcycling”. If compostable matter gets mixed with non-compostable waste, the entire lot is ruined.
While we’ve seen similar things happen in the recycling industry with “wishcycling”, recycling facilities are generally better prepared to handle it. Unfortunately, composting facilities don’t have the same sorting technology that can separate contaminants.
This has forced many municipalities to discard of entire batches, to preserve the compostable material that’s not been contaminated inside the facility. Our composting municipality in Boulder reported that about 10% of their batches were contaminated – and for lack of other options, these are all sent to landfill.
In landfills, the composting process doesn’t get enough oxygen for organic matter to decompose properly. A side effect of this is methane gas, which is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas with about 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide for the first 20 years after reaching the atmosphere. In other words, very bad news for the planet.
Again, if composting happens in the right conditions, it releases no harmful gases to the atmosphere and actually gives back nutrients to the soil. But with contamination levels being so high, it sometimes doesn’t happen that way despite everyone’s best efforts.
Consumer Education and Participation
As the issues laid out above hint at, compostable packaging relies on the consumer being aware of how to compost properly, and taking the time to do it. The packaging needs to be sorted away from other waste streams, and if home-composted, it needs just the right conditions to decompose. There are many ways to go about it wrong, or at least not-quite-right.
And again, this places a lot of responsibility on the consumer to first take the time to learn the proper how-to of composting, and then to do it each and every time. If not, the packaging may instead end up in landfill, where it will do more harm than good.
At Peak State, we look at how our customers actually behave, and feel that recycling is both more ubiquitously available and practical at the current moment.
Circularity Takes All in Sustainability
Compostable packaging has a linear lifecycle. In many cases, virgin compostable packaging is only used once before being put toward composting (if ever), and after it’s decomposed, the next product needs new packaging. This means consistent use of more resources and energy.
And all of our research around sustainability points toward one thing – circularity is the name of the game. The absolute best way to reduce our footprint and preserve our resources is to keep them in use for as long as possible.
It’s simple math, but not always easy to achieve. Which is why we’re thrilled to introduce the new, sustainable packaging we’ve created for our beloved coffee beans.
Introducing Our Infinitely Recyclable Aluminium Coffee Bean Can
As we’re moving away from compostable packaging, we’re doing so in confidence that our new packaging, available through limited release, is ticking all the boxes we could never quite reach with compostable bean bags.
Our new packaging is an elegant, durable, easy-to-use aluminium can, which is optimized for storing coffee with its air-tight and opaque design. And aside from its functional aspects, there are some pretty significant benefits for the planet:
1. Extended Freshness
Our coffee bean can is built to last. Its durability ensures that it can be reused for a long time, which means less waste and fewer replacements. This is a fantastic way to embrace circularity and maximize our resources, and something we’re excited to lean into as part of our environmental efforts going forward.
2. Easily and Efficiently Recyclable for Re-Use
Aluminium is unique in that it’s a so-called infinitely recyclable material. Most materials degrade somewhat during the recycling process – paper, for example, weakens each time and can typically only be recycled about 7 times.
But aluminium comes out of the recycling process as if entirely new, which means it can be recycled an infinite amount of times without losing its quality. It’s not easily contaminated, and the recycling process is both highly efficient and fast. This makes it one of the most sustainable and circular materials on the market. Even better, it’s much easier for the consumer to deal with at the end of its lifespan than a compostable solution.
3. Locally Refillable Option
Studies show that getting a second life from the same packaging makes it more environmentally friendly than any single-use option. Our favorite thing about the new aluminium coffee bean can is that it’s refillable, which keeps it in use for longer and reduces the need for new packaging. It’s also reusable – it can be a water bottle, vase, or anything you imagine it to be.
For now, we’re able to offer refills locally at our farmer’s markets, and the aluminium can will initially be available for limited releases only. But over time, we aim to lean into circularity even more and make it a core part of Peak State’s environmental efforts. And we may revisit compostable packaging again in the future as technology advances.
Bottom line: Peak State is Committed To Environmental Solutions
In conclusion, we strive for real sustainable solutions and are working hard to ensure that all aspects of our company and products reflect that. Thus, we’re bidding farewell to compostable packaging and embracing the infinitely recyclable coffee bean can.
We believe it’s a more efficacious solution and way to do our part. Today, you can try our limited-release Peru coffee bean can, available on our website and for refills locally – we hope you’ll love it as much as we do.
And let’s raise our cups to genuinely sustainable coffee beans! We’re thrilled and honored to be on this journey with you.