Are Coffee Bags Recyclable? Sustainable Solutions for Empty Coffee Bags

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Wondering what to do with your empty coffee bags? You’re not alone. As coffee lovers, we go through bags of beans and grounds, but the question remains: Are coffee bags recyclable? In this post, we’ll explore sustainable solutions for disposing of these bags, ensuring your coffee habit leaves a lighter footprint on our planet.

Are Coffee Bags Recyclable?

Generally, no—most coffee bags aren’t recyclable. The typical coffee bags you find in grocery stores or major coffee chains are made from composite materials, combining plastic and aluminum foil.

And even if you were to painstakingly separate the layers to grab the recyclable bits, they would most likely be tainted by glues, etc.

That said, there is a sustainable solution for empty bags of coffee. In recent years, fully recyclable coffee bags have become more common, especially from small local coffee shops and online specialty subscription services. These sustainable options are also being adopted by larger, eco-conscious coffee roasters.

Types of recyclable coffee bags include:

  • Traditional kraft paper bags
  • Rice paper bags
  • Newer products like LDPE, PLA, and bio-plastic bags

Here’s a table summarizing which coffee bags are recyclable:

Composite Bags
(Starbucks, etc.)
Starbucks CoffeeNoNo
Polylactic Acid (PLA)Driftaway Coffee♻️ YesNo
Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)Coma Coffee♻️ YesNo
Rice PaperRice Paper Coffee Bags♻️ Yes🌱 Yes
Kraft PaperKraft Paper Coffee Bag♻️ Yes🌱 Yes
Stumptown♻️ Yes🌱 Yes

Recyclable Coffee Bags

Here are the types of recyclable coffee bags. Each type is made from different materials, including natural materials like cornstarch, sugar cane, etc.

1. Kraft Paper Coffee Bags

Untreated kraft paper packaging is 100% biodegradable and compostable. If you’re composting your kraft paper coffee bag, simply toss the bag into your compost bin, where it’ll decompose just like other paper products.
Kraft Paper Coffee Bag From Course Coffee Roasters In Stl
Kraft paper coffee bag from Course Coffee Roasters in STL

The only downside to kraft paper coffee bags is that they don’t keep the coffee fresh as long other coffee bag types, so you’ll need to use within a few days. Or, once opened, transfer the beans to an airtight container, like this Airscape one (available on Amazon for $36).

Before recycling or composting your kraft paper bag, first wipe away any coffee oil residue from inside the bags, then add them to your other paper recyclables.

2. PLA Coffee Bags

Polylactic acid (PLA) packaging is a relatively new sustainable choice for coffee packaging. It’s crafted from natural ingredients such as corn, sugarcane, or maize starch. This packaging is created using a fermentation process that yields a product with a plastic-like feel but made from organic materials1. A famous brand that uses PLA bags is Drift Away Coffee.

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PLA bags are not only biodegradable but also strong and durable, making them ideal for coffee packaging. They use less energy to produce compared to traditional plastics and can decompose in about 90 days under the right conditions.

how can I tell if a coffee bag is made with PLA?

Look for the recycling symbols on the bag, such as:

  • #7 PLA
  • #7 Other
  • #7 O

These indicate the bag is made from PLA plastic2.

Artboard 2 100
Look for any of these recycling symbols for PLA

3. Rice Paper Coffee Bags

Rice paper, made from the rice-paper plant (no actual rice is used, contrary to the name) or other materials like mulberry, hemp, bamboo, or rice straw pulp, is another sustainable packaging option. This type of paper is both compostable and biodegradable, capable of breaking down naturally in a few months without releasing harmful carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Closeup Of A Rice Paper Coffee Bag Titled Dunion Coffee From Mtpack Coffee
Rice paper coffee bags are super sustainable

Rice paper coffee bags are emerging as an eco-friendly packaging choice, mainly among smaller coffee roasters who are quicker to adopt innovative practices. Think your neighborhood coffee shop that roasts in small batches.

These smaller, independent roasters often care more about environmental sustainability than the big guys. That said, this packaging option is gaining in popularity with folks dedicated to reducing environmental impact through sustainable practices.

4. BIOTRĒ Coffee Bags

Gesundheit! If you’re looking for eco-friendly coffee packaging, check out Biotrē bags. These innovative pouches, used by popular roasters like Stumptown Coffee, are made from plant-based materials like wood pulp and sugar cane, making them renewable and compostable in the right conditions.

You can find Stumptown coffee in most grocery stores, but ordering online ensures you get the freshest beans, as store-bought ones tend to sit on the shelves longer.

Hair Bender Coffee

5. LDPE Coffee Bags

Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is a popular material for coffee bags due to its affordability, flexibility, and high barrier properties. Many coffee roasters have embraced flexible coffee bags made with LDPE, recognizing its recyclability and positive impact on coffee freshness.

How to Recycle LDPE Coffee bags

Many LDPE (low-density polyethylene) coffee bags can be recycled! Here’s how to be an eco-friendly coffee drinker: First, check the bag. Look for a recycling symbol with the number “4” inside. That means it’s LDPE plastic, the kind that can often be recycled.

Ldpe Recycling Symbol

♻️ Pro Tip: See if your local grocery store accepts plastic bags for recycling. Many stores have bins specifically for #4 plastic grocery bags, which also takes LDPE coffee bags!!

Plastic Bag Recycling Bins At Grocery Store
Look for these bins at your local grocery store

Non-Recyclable Coffee Bags: Multi-Layer Materials

Many whole-bean coffee bags are not recyclable because they are made from multiple materials laminated together, creating a barrier to protect the coffee but making them difficult to separate for proper recycling. These multi-layer bags are often called composite bags or multi-layer plastic bags.

There are two common types of composite bags used for coffee packaging:

1. Plastic-lined paper bags

These bags have a paper exterior for aesthetics and branding, with a thin layer of plastic lining on the inside to protect the coffee from freshness enemies like air, moisture, and grease. While the paper portion might be recyclable depending on the design, the presence of the plastic lining often makes the entire bag non-recyclable. Common coffee chains using plastic-lined paper bags include Starbucks Coffee, Peet’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Caribou Coffee, and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

1024Px Recycling Code 84.Svg

2. Foil-lined bags

Similar to plastic-lined bags, foil-lined bags use a layer of foil instead of plastic on the interior. This offers similar protection but with different material properties. Foil-lined bags are also generally not recyclable due to the combination of materials. Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee are examples of brands that have used foil-lined bags in the past. 

What is TerraCycle?

Terracycle's Homepage

TerraCycle is a company that recycles items typically considered non-recyclable, such as coffee bags. You can purchase a Zero Waste Box from them, fill it with used coffee bags and similar items, and schedule a pickup. TerraCycle handles the collection, processing, and recycling, ensuring these recyclable products stay out of landfills.

TerraCycle offers two types of programs:

1. 🆓 Free Recycling Program

TerraCycle partners with major coffee retailers (like Lavazza) to offer free collection and recycling for your used coffee bags. You can find all participating brands that care about environmental responsibility, here.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Collect your empty coffee bags from participating brands and put them in any box or container.
  2. Create a TerraCycle account.
  3. Once your box is full, download and print a free shipping label from your TerraCycle program page.
  4. Ship the box using the prepaid label to their recycling facility.
  5. They process the coffee bags by cleaning, separating them by material type, and recycling them into raw materials for new products.
  6. Earn points for each shipment, which can be redeemed as donations to schools, non-profits, or a charitable organization of your choice.

♻️ Note: There might be limits on enrollment, so you could end up on a waitlist. Most programs are free thanks to brand sponsorship. You don’t need to clean the bags, just make sure to remove any leftover coffee.

2. 💸 Paid Programs

You can also purchase a Zero Waste Box or bag designed for coffee bags and other hard-to-recycle items. Once it’s filled, schedule a TerraCycle Pickup, which includes collection, processing, and recycling. Here’s more information:

Zero Waste Box for Coffee Bags

  • Price: $114.00
  • Size: 11″ x 11″ x 20″
  • Description: Accepts any brand and size of empty coffee bags.
  • What You Can Recycle: Empty Coffee Bags
  • Does Not Accept: Capsules, Coffee Electronics, Coffee Grounds, Discs, Filters, Other Coffee Packaging
A Woman Recycling A Plastic Container In A Terracycle Zero Waste Box
Image courtesy of TerraCycle

Coffee Bag Recycling Resources:

  1. has a searchable database to find recycling centers near you that may accept your coffee bags.
Screenshot 2024 03 12 204630


How do I recycle Starbucks coffee bags?

while Starbucks bags cannot typically go in curbside recycling, mail-back programs like TerraCycle’s provide a solution to recycle them properly.

Are Peet’s coffee bags recyclable?

While Peet’s has a dedicated program for recycling their aluminum espresso capsules, their empty whole bean coffee bags are not recyclable. They too would need to be recycled via TerraCycle.

Can you recycle Lavazza coffee bags?

Lavazza coffee bags can be recycled through TerraCycle’s free mail-back program in partnership with Lavazza. You can sign up for this free service here.

Final Thoughts:

Recycling coffee bags can be a challenge, but TerraCycle offers convenient solutions through their free programs and Zero Waste Boxes. By participating in these programs, you can ensure that your used coffee bags are processed and recycled properly, reducing waste and helping the environment.

However, unless you’re purchasing coffee beans from a company that partners with TerraCycle, it might be more sustainable to buy your coffee beans from a company that uses recyclable or compostable coffee bags. This way, you can enjoy your coffee knowing you’re making a positive impact on the planet. Happy brewing!


Avatar Of Kelsey Todd
With over two decades in the coffee industry, Kelsey is a seasoned professional barista with roots in Seattle and Santa Barbara. Accredited by The Coffee Association of America and a member of The Baristas Guild, he combines practical expertise with a profound understanding of coffee's history and cultural significance. Kelsey tries his best to balance family time with blogging time and fails miserably.