Whether your Backyard Beans roasted coffee arrives on your doorstep or you pick it up from a cafe shelf, you probably noticed a big change—our bags are different! Not only in design, but in their packaging material as well. In an effort to better align with our company’s deeply rooted sustainability values, we recently made the switch from compostable to recyclable LDPE (low density polyethylene) bags. With limited municipal composting in our area, we've come to realize that our previous compostable bags may not be the best “green” option for our company. Our new bags are plastic, and they are recyclable at nearly all grocery stores or big box stores at the plastic bag collection bin, along with several curbside and commercial recycling services. This a clean recycling stream that actually gets recycled and is easily accessible to everyone! You can even use this locator to find a bag recycling deposit at your local grocery store: https://bagandfilmrecycling.org.
We know, it seems odd to move from compostable to recyclable packaging when trying to prioritize sustainability. But, we like to look at sustainability from a corporate perspective to make sure we’re running a business that embodies the environmental, social, and economic aspects of sustainability. In order for our business to run the best it can, all pieces of the sustainability pie need to be taken into consideration when making any and all decisions. So through that lens, this switch makes perfect sense. Let us explain…
From a social standpoint, that means taking care of our employees. We made strategic increases to our employee compensations following the COVID shutdown. This allowed us to have a plan for increasing wages so that our minimum tipped wage is $15/hour and our minimum non-tipped wage is $18/hour with a target non-tipped wage of $20/hour. Years prior to COVID, we established a company health insurance plan and cover 50% employee premiums, along with a 401(k) safe harbor plan (auto 3% employer match), and continue to offer the same benefits today, plus two weeks paid time off for all full time employees and an accrual based system for part time employees. In 2022, we launched a transparent compensation model for our cafe teams, clearly documenting starting pay for all staff levels, as well as job descriptions and roles and responsibilities associated with each level. All of this is to say, that in order to maintain above average industry compensation standards, we need to maintain disciplined and sustainable financial performance.
Which brings us to our economic practices. As business owners, we realize we can not move forward in business without positive cash flow—no business can exist without it. The same amount of focus must be put on cash flow and other economic/financial metrics as it is put on social and environmental causes, otherwise a company is unlikely to be sustainable, or in business for very long. Since we are co-owners, we are not only fiducially responsible for the wellbeing of our company and our family, but we are also ethically responsible for providing sustainable wages to our employees.
Let’s circle back to what all of this has to do with our new bags. Since you now have an insider’s view into our company operations, you can see that we need to take a lot into consideration when evaluating sustainable practices. The reality is that recycle-ready bags are cheaper than compostable bags, and at a time in the world where prices are increasing, we must prioritize the economic piece of the pie a little bit more than all the others. Making this packaging switch provides us with greater economics as a company, it’s as simple as that.
Now, let’s talk about the last piece of the pie—environmental sustainability, and specifically, compostable vs. recyclable bags. Since the beginning, Backyard Beans has opted for compostable packaging for all of our retail bags. We really liked that this decision spoke to the ethos of our brand—but we didn’t initially realize the challenges that came with compostable packaging. As certified Organic roasters, we build deep relationships with coffee growers to ensure we have integrity from seed to cup, including sustainable farming practices. This remains true for all aspects of our coffee, including the bags. The compostable bags themselves are made with a PLA or plant based plastic liner. When we were contemplating making a switch, we took an even deeper dive into the materials of our compostable bags to ensure they were entirely sustainable, but instead we discovered that the PLA bag liners were likely made with plants grown on factory farms, from GMO crops, that were treated with herbicides and synthetic fertilizer. To put it another way–we have been unable to prove that PLA does not support factory farming and Big Agriculture. In addition to questionable farming practices, there is an ethical issue as it relates to the use of farm land for the bioplastic supply chain vs. food for human consumption.
To take it one step further, let’s look at disposal. The PLA bags are not backyard compostable and can actually contaminate the recycling stream if mixed in, and they won’t compost in the landfills where many end up. Since most of our coffee is sold in Southeastern Pennsylvania and recycling is the more accessible option for those consumers given the number of plastic bag deposit locations and qualifying recycling programs, we feel confident that we’re creating opportunities for our bags to be recycled by our customers. Recycling decreases the need to create (and grow!) new material.
So, what’s next? We’ll continue to monitor the developments of both recyclable and compostable packaging, and weigh the pros and cons across all three pieces of our sustainability pie, making sure our decision makes sense across the board. But for now, we hope you like our new bags as much as we do!