Level Ground Trading is a small (30 employees) Canadian company known mostly for its delicious, organic coffee, sourced from Ethiopia, Peru, Columbia, Tanzania, Bolivia and the Congo Republic. Level Ground is a mission-based company, meaning that it’s not just about roasting and selling coffee, but trading fairly and directly with small-scale producers in developing countries. Their motto is “We’re building a food system focused on sustainability and well-being.” Level Ground, a certified Fair Trade company, also trades in tea from India, dried fruits from Colombia, spices from Sri Lanka and heirloom rice from the Philippines.
Globally, “Fair Trade” is a trade model and certification that allows shoppers to buy things produced in an ethical manner, via a more direct route from farmer/artisan. There is a set Fair Trade pricing scheme internationally (for bulk items like coffee), but Level Ground often goes above this standard price and pays producers community premiums, which are used to fund community development.
In Columbia, where Level Ground started out by buying directly from a Columbian coffee cooperative, Fair Trade community premiums are used for educational scholarships in the coffee growing region and this initiative has grown to support 200 scholarships every year. Scholarship students have become professionals such as doctors, agronomists and social workers.
Although coffee is the largest part of Level Ground’s business, it’s not just about ethically-sourced foods and drinks. Level Ground’s offices and coffee-roasting and product-packaging facility have been completely zero-waste for eleven years, and they compost over 20,000 pounds of organic matter annually. Not only that, the company pays staff to bike, carpool or bus to work.
Packaging is a huge part of their business, and Level Ground wasn’t overlooking the waste generated by the coffee bags and other packages. As a first step, Level Ground has been reclaiming 24,000 used product bags annually, and has been contracting to a refugee immigrant to sew them into tote bags, which are sold to consumers or used in promotions.
But this up-cycling, although a great way to deal with product packages, will become obsolete (once stocks of returned packages are used up) thanks to a state-of-the-art compostable packing system, one of the first used by the commercial coffee industry. Unlike most commercial coffee sold in stores and supermarkets, all Level Ground coffee packages are now 100% compostable, and will biodegrade in municipal or home composters.
This compostable packaging required the invention and construction of a whole new industrial packaging machine. This innovative packaging system begins with rolls of package material, and adds a compostable “breathing hole” and “wire” to re-close the package after the consumer has opened it. Usually, these features are metal and/or plastic, and the usual coffee bags cannot be composted or even recycled. The package rolls are made mainly from FSC-certified wood pulp. Other technical challenges had to be overcome, such as replacing an un-compostable best-before-date sticker with a stamp that uses water-based ink. With some twelve billion pounds of coffee consumed around the globe annually, compostable coffee packaging is an idea who’s time has come.
Special thank you to Tom Baker who brought us this story!