Compostable or recyclable? Which is the better option?

Decent Packaging's cups

Almost 30,000 visitors descended upon the Truman Brewery in London for The London Coffee Festival 28-31 March.

Sustainability, cold brew and rare specialty coffees were the order of the day as the festival revealed some clear trends for the sector. In fact, much of what was presented at the event was more and more of the same we’ve been seeing over the past year, which just proves they aren’t going away any time soon.

Green disposables or reusable? The Lab presented a series of talks, discussions and demonstrations on topics from how to open a coffee shop to home brewing techniques. The first talk of the festival highlighted one of the biggest issues affecting coffee shops at the moment: takeaway cups. In The Big Plastic Debate, the topic of reusable vs ‘green’ disposables got quite heated and became a discussion of disposable cups as a whole (whether regular or bio-based), vs reusable cups.

Daniel Webb of Everyday Plastics, a non-profit highlighting how much plastic waste the UK produces, said, “Ultimately, we want to see disposable cups disappear completely, however the industry wouldn’t exist as it does without them. Plastic has enabled the single use consumable culture and that’s what we need to change.”

This got Tony Small, founder of Decent Packaging, a bit hot under the collar, “I couldn’t disagree more…we need to use better materials in the first place.” Decent Packaging produces single-use coffee cups made from plants, which compost in 12 weeks (provided they’re in an industrial composter, they won’t do much in your home compost bin).

Other panellists included Chris Nielson from Huskee Cups (reusable coffee cups made from discarded coffee husks), Carla Barnett of Sol Cup (plastic-free glass reusable cups) and Chris Baker from the original KeepCup brand. They all echoed Webb – that compostable and biodegradable disposables are not a solution, reusable cups are the only way to solve the issue of a consumable single-use culture and the UK’s mounding waste problem.

The idea of reusable over green single-use was reflected among the exhibitors. In fact, very few eco-disposables were on display, apart from Decent Packaging. There was more focus on reusables from Huskee Cups (made from coffee husks), KeepCup (which has introduced a really cute Star Wars range) to new The Barista Cup, which enables you to brew a coffee on the go using fresh grounds, and then empty the grounds into your compost or waste, wash and reuse again.

Conscious coffee consumption is becoming a thing of the not so distant future. The London Coffee Festival aimed to compost all the coffee cups and grounds from the event and reduce water wastage.

All coffee cups used at the event are fully compostable plant-based alternatives from Decent Packaging, who will turn them into organic compost within 12 weeks. “I believe the only way we’re going to see the reduction of waste we need is by simplifying sustainability,” said Small. “Packaging made from plants doesn’t just reduce the impact plastic has on the environment – it creates a circular economy that ties in with our food waste, allowing us to compost pretty much everything.”

Seven tonnes of coffee grounds are produced at LCF, and Percol/Lofbergs collected it all and composted it at a local facility, transforming what would have been a waste product into 150 bags of agricultural and commercial plant fertiliser. Some grounds were turned into beauty products such as a face scrub from UpCircle.

Cold Brew coffee featured heavily from many exhibitors. RTD and bag-in-box concentrates to make cold brew easily accessible to cafés and foodservice environments were launched by big names including Lavazza and Union Hand Roasted Coffee, to smaller roasters such as Lincoln & York.

Cold Brew cocktails and mocktails are replacing the bar staple espresso martini, and offer up a wide variety of interesting mixes – cold brew and ginger beer? Tastes just like Jamaican Ginger Cake, comfortingly spicy with a smooth caffeinated finish. Add some cold brew liqueur from Conkers or Mr Black and you’re on to a winner.

Following the coffee liqueur trend, Discarded have made a Cascara vermouth. While Cascara in its whole form is currently banned by the EU as it terms it a ‘novel food’, the dried fruit extract is free to use and this is what manufacturers are using to create their products.

Discarded’s website says, “What others have wasted, we have welcomed and made our distinguishing feature.

“On the nose, Discarded Sweet Cascara Vermouth is deep, rich and aromatic with an easy natural warmth. The taste is full and sweet, the indulgent fruity notes merge with the characteristic bitter notes of Vermouth which dominate the clean, lingering finish. Best served straight over ice, long with tonic for instant refreshment.”

I’m afraid I didn’t sample any, but I wish I had.


  • A guest blog from our digital editor, Kat Skeates. She can be reached at [email protected]

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