Can You Recycle Coffee Bags? (Find Out Now!)

Jessica Vaillancourt
by Jessica Vaillancourt

Coffee might just be America’s favorite beverage (besides beer, of course!). If you like to start your morning by making your own coffee at home, there’s a chance you go through a lot of coffee beans. Many brands of coffee beans are sold at food stores in coffee bags. Once you use up all your coffee, you’ll be stuck with this empty bag. The question is, can you recycle coffee bags?

Whether you can recycle a coffee bag depends on the material it is made of. Paper coffee bags, such as Kraft and rice paper, CAN be recycled. But petroleum-based plastic and metalized film coffee bags CANNOT be recycled. Consider switching over to an eco-friendly coffee brand, or find ways to repurpose your old coffee bags.

What Are Coffee Bags Made Of?

Coffee bags are the containers used to store and sell ground or whole coffee beans. They consist of the bag itself, which comes in different sizes, and some form of seal to keep the bag closed. These seals are either plastic pieces with bendable metal wires, or “Ziploc” plastic seals.

Coffee bags come in many different materials, depending on the coffee brand or roastery’s choice of packaging. This packaging accounts for close to 3% of a coffee supply chain’s total carbon footprint. Because of this, many companies are starting to transition towards more eco-friendly and sustainable coffee bag materials.

Unfortunately, many coffee bag types are still not recyclable. Here are the various materials coffee bags are most commonly made of, and whether or not you can recycle them.

Paper Coffee Bags

Paper coffee bags are an increasingly popular form of coffee bag material. These paper coffee bags ARE recyclable, sustainable, and eco-friendly. They are often kept closed by a resealable plastic “Ziplock” seal that can also go right in the recycling bin. You may also see a resealable tin tie instead. Paper coffee bags usually have the recycle symbol stamped on the bottom.

Eco-conscious coffee brands and roasters like to use Kraft brown paper or rice paper to produce their coffee bags. These materials are not only recyclable, but also highly biodegradable and compostable. But they are not quite as mainstream as plastic coffee bags due to their slightly higher cost. They are also more susceptible to damage in transit.

Plastic Coffee Bags

Plastic coffee bags are still very common, and unfortunately are NOT recyclable. That’s because these bags are usually a combination of paper and plastic coating. This makes it nearly impossible to separate the plastic coating from the paper during the recycling process.

Many plastic coffee bags are polyethylene (PET) or petroleum based. These are effective materials for keeping the coffee fresh and safely transporting it, but are wasteful once used up. They can only go directly in the trash can, or repurposed in another creative way.

Metalized Film Coffee Bags

The other most common coffee bag material is metalized film or aluminum foil. Metalized film consists of a thin polyester film covered by a thin layer of aluminum and a shiny metallic film. You’ll know if your coffee bags are made of metallized film by the shiny silver interior of the bag.

Sadly, metallized film coffee bags are NOT recyclable. These polyester and aluminum materials are not able to be broken down and turned into something else. They are made with multiple layers that cannot be separated during the recycling process. Similar to other types of plastic coffee bags, these must be thrown directly in the trash.

How to Dispose of Old Coffee Bags

To summarize, old coffee bags can either be recycled or thrown away, depending on the material. There are also a few creative uses for them, so you can avoid sending them to a landfill. Here are the ways you can dispose of your old coffee bags.

Recycle Them

If you purchase paper coffee bags, you can recycle these. Do this by placing them in with your regular paper or combination recycling bin for curbside pickup. You can also bring these bags, along with the rest of your sorted recycled items, to a local recycling center. Before you recycle coffee bags, make sure you clean out all of the remaining coffee grounds and debris from inside.

Throw Them in the Trash

If you purchase plastic, plastic coated, or metallized film coffee bags, you will have to throw these in the trash. They can go with the rest of your trash for curbside trash collection or dump dropoff. This should be a last resort, because the plastic or metallized film bags will end up in the landfill. These plastic materials would take over 1,000 years to decompose.

Repurpose or Reuse Them

If you hate to throw away your coffee bags, you can find ways to reuse or repurpose them. A great option is to start buying your coffee from the grocery store in bulk, and use your old coffee bag as the container. Buying in bulk greatly cuts down on packaging waste and gives you a way to reuse your old bags.

You can also get creative and repurpose your coffee bags. Here are a few fun ideas to get you thinking:

  • Turn them into seedling planters or vases.
  • Cut them up and use the pieces for craft projects.
  • Store small items in them.
  • Use them to make book covers.

Related Questions

What is a drip coffee bag?

Drip coffee bags are a fairly recent invention. These compact, portable filter bags are filled with ground coffee. They are held in paper stands and suspended over a cup or mug. When hot water is slowly poured on them, the coffee is brewed directly into the cup. Coffee bags are lightweight, easy to store, and create less waste than single-use plastic coffee cups. 

Why do coffee bags have vents?

Most coffee bags are made with vents. These vents are designed to keep air out, while releasing the carbon dioxide produced by fresh coffee beans. This keeps the coffee fresh, and prevents the coffee bag from erupting. 

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Jessica Vaillancourt
Jessica Vaillancourt

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