Coffee company diverts foil bags from landfill

Caber Bags low res

An entirely new ‘upcycling’ idea has been pioneered by a coffee supplier in Scotland. It provides a partial answer to environmental campaigners who complain that the country uses too many one-time disposable carrier bags, and the supplier involved in the project has suggested that the entire coffee trade would do well to copy the idea.

The new idea involves the re-use of the foil bags in which coffee suppliers most commonly provide their roasted beans to the catering industry. These bags are generally destined to end up in landfill.

However, Findlay Leask and his team from Caber Coffee in Aberdeen have organised a project with a social enterprise company, which involves one-kilo coffee packs being turned into heavy-duty re-usable shopping carrier bags. The social enterprise company is getting through two hundred coffee packs a month, with Caber Coffee providing the used packs as the base material, and then paying for the new carrier bags.

The idea came up after a local school had experimented with foils in its workshop.

“These are the standard foil bags used across the coffee industry,” explains Findlay Leask. “A customer presented us with an apron made from this foil, which turned out to be waterproof and splash-proof – it was like a duck’s back!

“I was intrigued, and found out it had been made by a local academy, who then said to me – ‘we make shopping bags, too!’. I thought this was great – how many could they do? But a school has a limited amount of time, so we approached Glencraft, a social enterprise company which has the proper industrial sewing machines which you need for this – this is a very tough fabric, so you must use a commercial sewing machine.”

The process turns out to be extremely clever, while not too complex.

“Ten one-kilo coffee bags make one carrier bag – three each side, and then the ends and base. The original coffee bags are simply folded, and the tops are snipped off – we can even use torn coffee bags. There is no lining, so the waterproofing applies to the inside as much as the outside.

“The most difficult part was the handle, but the social enterprise company had a supply of webbing, which took care of that.”

The social enterprise company, Glencraft, employs several dozen workers with disabilities, visual impairment or learning difficulties. The company has pointed out that as its logo is stitched into every bag, it is having the effect of showing that such an organisation can produce high-quality bespoke products.

The coffee ‘carrier bag for life’ need not be a one-off idea, says Caber – it could be an inspiration to the rest of the coffee industry.

“This is a very interesting way of re-using something which must otherwise go to landfill,” says Findlay Leask. “It is a great way for the industry to give itself green credentials, and everyone we have shown this too has said ‘what a great idea!’ We’re not insisting that this is unique to us – it’s a subject which the entire industry could take up.

“It just shows that if you look at things which would go to landfill, and give them to someone with imagination, all kinds of good ideas can come out of it.

“The only downside is getting our coffee bags back – we always ask customers to put their empty coffee bags aside, and some of them always promise to do so, but at the moment we do not see more than ten per cent of them back.”

Although Caber is paying the social enterprise company £5 each for the new carrier bags, it is not selling them on – it is giving them away, partly as a promotional move and partly to encourage the rest of the coffee trade to take up the same idea, or to think up new ones.

“We have not sold any, because it has turned out to be such a great promotion in giving them away. You can imagine how proud I would be to see everyone coming out of Tesco carrying Caber Coffee carrier bags!”

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This story has also appeared on the Caffe Culture news portal, the news website of the Caffe Culture show. It was written by Coffee House, the leading news magazine for the coffee trade – see http://www.coffee-house.org.uk

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