On Oakland Coffee’s website, there’s a quote that reads, “It’s amazing what you can get done in a day when you have a damn good cup of coffee in your hand — Mike Dirnt, Bassist/Guy Who Says Smart Things.”
All those “damn good” cups of coffee have enabled Dirnt, the bassist for Green Day, to do something truly amazing — build the first coffee company in America to use certified compostable packaging exclusively, as reported on the company’s sustainability page.
Dirnt and his bandmates Billie Joe Armstrong and Tre Cool launched Oakland Coffee in 2015.
Dirnt told The Cool Down that it all started when he and the guys had become “brew testers” for their buddy in Oakland, who had been roasting test batches of coffee for different cafés.
“After a while, we were only drinking the coffee that our friend was roasting the way we liked it,” Dirnt recalled. “Billie Joe called me one day and said, ‘What do you think of starting a coffee company?’ And thus our journey began.”
And what a journey it has been.
The Oakland Coffee website explains that Dirnt was out surfing one day and watched a plastic bag float by his board. It was another turning point — a fork stuck in the road, you might say. Dirnt knew he didn’t want Oakland Coffee’s bags drifting aimlessly in the ocean.
Dirnt said that the first step after this reckoning was to see what was already available in terms of sustainable packaging for coffee products. Once the guys realized there were very few options, they searched for plant-based bioplastic films meant for food consumption.
“A lot of people said our packaging couldn’t be made,” Dirnt told The Cool Down. “But the people we met that were working on plant-based packaging, [like] scientists and biofilm companies, were much more passionate and loud.”
With that encouragement, the band continued down the boulevard of compostable dreams — although it was often more nightmare than dream.
Sourcing these materials was a trying process. There’s much more to it than creating a compostable bag that can keep coffee fresh.
“There’s also the inks we use, the tape at the top of the bag, and the one-way valve that releases offgassing from roasted coffee beans,” Dirnt said.
Every bit of the packaging needed to be certified separately and then again as a complete package, Dirnt told The Cool Down.
“Each one of these tests can take up to 90 days, so outside of sourcing materials, the testing alone is a lengthy process,” he explained.
While it was an exhaustive undertaking, the finished product is well worth the effort.
According to Plastic Oceans, 190 million tons of single-use plastic is produced yearly. New research shows that there are 170 trillion plastic particles, which weigh about 2.2 million tons, floating in the ocean — that’s about 8.8 billion iPhones worth of plastic.
All that plastic breaks down into microplastics, which end up in marine life, which end up on our plates in things like fish tacos — and nobody wants to eat a mahi-mahi taco with a pinch of plastic.
As for those plastic coffee pods, they can take up to 500 years to break down naturally, releasing harmful, planet-warming gases along the way.
Dirnt and his bandmates have been environmentally conscious for a long time. In 2006, the band partnered with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for the Move America Beyond Oil campaign.
When we asked if something had sparked this passion for taking care of the planet, Dirnt replied, “I think it’s just a matter of being conscious of your surroundings and challenging yourself for a better way forward.”
The legendary rocker recalled growing up in a time when recycling wasn’t really a thing and how that all has changed. Dirnt believes composting will be the new recycling, saying, “The next step forward in sustainable evolution would appear to be compostability — from the dirt back to the dirt.”
But it’s about more than just packaging for Dirnt, Armstrong, and Cool, as Oakland’s coffee beans are grown organically by farmers who practice sustainable farming methods. Dirnt stressed the importance of his company partnering with “ethically like-minded people.”
The company’s charitable branch, Fueled By Love, supports the communities where its coffee beans are grown. Dirnt told The Cool Down that they have helped fund a small first-aid clinic and a school.
“Also, with every bag we sell being fairly traded, it allows us to give back directly to the farms and farmers,” Dirnt added.
When asked what advice he’d give anyone looking to get involved in sustainable product solutions but who might feel discouraged that one person can’t make a difference with major environmental issues, Dirnt emphasized that no effort is too small.
“Even supporting environmentally conscious products and companies can have a ripple effect that can have a big influence and impact positive change,” he said.
And you should listen to him — he is, after all, the “guy who says smart things.”
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