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This month will see the launch of a brand new range for North Star bringing together some of the greatest coffees we have ever tasted using a packing solution which aims to highlight a really big problem in our industry…waste.

Our motivation to develop the North Star ‘Spotlight’ range came from two factors:

1.       Our occasional inability to work with some of the really really incredible producers and coffees we come across due to the commercial realities of being a wholesale supplier.

2.       The programme ‘Hugh’s War on Waste: The Battle Continues’ which aired on the BBC on 28th July 2016. This documentary built on the previous issue of waste in the consumer market but focused attention on the huge issue of disposable cups in the coffee industry.

The Problem

We feel it is important to briefly outline the problem caused by paper takeaway cups so that you have some context to help understand why we feel so strongly about this.

2.5billion cups are thrown away every year in the UK alone with 99.75% ending up in landfill. A large proportion of cups sold on the high street are marketed as being recyclable but not even a quarter of a percent are currently making it to the appropriate facilities of which there are just two in the UK.

This is a problem that is not just caused by the high street giants, one of the most popular brands used by specialty coffee shops markets their cups as being compostable and biodegradable by using the plant based PLA lining instead of a plastic polyethylene which is generally required to make the cups waterproof. What most consumers are unaware of is that this is only the case if they are hydrolysed using water and temperature – this has to happen in a purpose built composting facility otherwise those PLA lined cups will just sit in landfill. When buried in landfill, ‘biodegradable’ products will break down anaerobically which simultaneously makes them one of the most severe sources of human made methane, a major factor in climate change.

In recent years, the growth of the coffee industry in the UK has overtaken the growth of the national economy by over eight times! Whilst this growth has resulted in a growing community of conscious consumers, it has also had a hugely detrimental impact on the environment. We are now at the point where 5000 cups are thrown away every minute in the UK alone. 5000 a minute! 2.5 billion a year! In the UK alone…!!!

The specialty coffee sector is really spearheading the industry and has been responsible for a number of positive research initiatives highlighting some of the issues facing producers today along with challenges of gender equity and diversification. As a business working at the forefront of this part of the industry, we feel a responsibility to contribute to the conversation and fervently feel that this is not something that can be ignored.

Our team is made up of passionate environment and people loving folk – we have always tried to run our business in the most socially and environmentally responsible way possible and are always looking for ways to improve our contribution to these two areas. Ollie came to us from starting up his own food waste initiative ‘Leftovers’ and used to drive around foodie businesses in Leeds in his spare time to redirect their waste to those in need. We have also put in place several schemes in the Roastery to ensure we are wasting as little as possible – our chaff (the bi product of the roasting process) is taken up to Meanwood Urban Valley farm where it is used in their compost and we donate all unused coffee to initiatives such as the Real Junk Food Project and Toast Love Coffee.

When it came to creating a new product to sit alongside our current specialty grade coffee range we strongly felt that the range should be more than just fancy coffee in fancy packaging, we wanted to shine a spotlight on the environmental harm caused by the coffee industry in the hope that our customers can learn more about what is going on and can perhaps start to force change.

The Project

We therefore got our heads together with James Taylor who founded the local print company called Pressision based in Pudsey. These guys have been behind some of the most innovative packing solutions we have ever seen and we knew they would be the right people for us to work with on the Spotlight range. James told us about a family run business based in the Lake District called James Cropper who have recently developed a bit of ground breaking machinery which could be used to effectively recycle paper cups into paper. We therefore began to work with Jon Simmons Design (independent designer behind the North Star brand, based in Leeds) to create a box and sleeve using paper from James Cropper, 50 per cent of which is made from recycled coffee cup fibre.

The Coffee

Our sourcing policy dictates a commitment to specialty grade coffee and our portfolio has always been made up exclusively of coffees that have achieved this quality grade, but every now and then we come across a coffee that is truly outstanding.

We are therefore delighted to introduce the first coffee to the range which showcases an exceptional washed coffee from the new crop in Ethiopia. This coffee comes to us from the Ambela washing station located in the Guji zone which borders Sidama in the south. We chose this lot as we feel there are very few coffees that can better show off the potential flavour profile that can be coaxed out of this incredible raw product. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and is the perfect producing country to work with as the provenance of the crop really comes through into the cup. There are altitudes of over 1900 metres above sea level alongside heirloom varietals and shade trees. The development of the cherry is therefore nice and slow with cooler temperatures on an evening allowing for the creation of some incredibly complex organic acids – these contribute to the outstanding cup profile with juicy notes of blackcurrant, apricot and of course the orange blossom and jasmine florals.

We have profiled this coffee specifically for use with manual brew methods such as the Chemex, V60, Kalita Wave or Aeropress. We would also recommend it to be enjoyed black and of course without sugar to really highlight the depth of flavour. We have precisely 1000 250g bags available of this lot and once it has gone it has gone. We look forward to introducing more coffees to the range throughout the year, all of which shall show off the best of the crop scoring over 88 using the SCAA cupping protocol.

The Packaging

The sleeve and box which make up the bulk of the packaging have been made using 50 per cent recycled coffee cup fibre. In 2013, James Cropper (established in 1845) invested £5million into a new recycling facility in the Lake District which collects takeaway cups from partner businesses and softens them in a solution which allows for the plastic layer to be skimmed off, pulverised and recycled. This results in water and pulp from the cup fibre which is filtered to remove impurities, leaving just a high grade pulp which can then be turned into paper. James Cropper are one of just two facilities in the UK which are now geared up to recycle coffee cups.

The sleeve and box are therefore 100% recyclable and biodegradable and what we aim to do by utilising this paper is to add to the demand for recycled coffee cup products in the hope that more and more businesses come on board to improve the problem.

Unfortunately, the bag inside the box cannot be recycled at this stage as we are still on the lookout for one that will not compromise the quality of the coffee – for coffee to maintain its freshness, we have found the best results to be in foil lined one way valve resealable bags but we are very much on the hunt for a suitable product and hope to have something available soon.

Further Info…

If you are interested in learning more about the issues covered in this blog post you can visit the following links:

http://www.jamescropper.com/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36882799

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/jul/29/hughs-war-on-waste-fearnley-whittingstall-coffee-cup

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2016/30/hughs-war-on-waste

If you are interested in learning more we would love to hear from you and remember, if posting on social media, to use the #waronwaste – happy brewing!