• QA 013
    What is the function of a container liner ?
    The European Contract for Coffee (ECC) states in Article 5 (b) that 'the coffee shall be stuffed in a 20' standard container with a suitable liner'. What exactly is this 'liner' and what does it do?
    Asked by:
    An exporter in Central Africa

    A liner is best described as an oblong sack or envelope whose size is equivalent to the inner space of a 20 foot container (TEU). It is attached to hooks in the upper corners after which loose coffee is blown in, gradually filling the entire container with coffee.  Container liners are used in the containerized bulk shipment of dry free-flowing cargo such as coffee. They are quick and simple to install and enable bulk cargo to be shipped door to door with a minimum of handling,thereby minimizing cargo spillage and waste.

    Once full the liner is sealed and not opened again until discharge at destination, either into the reception system of a roasting plant, or into a silo storage system, for example in a port. Bulk shipping means no export bags are required anymore whereas more coffee fits into the container (variable but generally about three tonnes more), thus saving on transport costs. Bulk coffee is discharged mechanically at the receiving end, thus avoiding the use of expensive manual labour.In Western Europe the disposal of empty coffee bags costs money as well. Because the United States mostly works on the ex dock sale system it seems relatively little coffee goes there in bulk. But today's large European roasters receive as much as 90% in bulk. Being able to supply coffee in bulk is a definite advantage therefore, with cost savings for  both shipper and receiver.

    The stipulation that 'a suitable container liner' must be used is firstly to avoid anyone perhaps mistakenly filling a bare container with loose coffee.This because there may never be any contact between the bare container walls and the coffee. Secondly, the liner must be of a generally recognized type and quality - some roasters even specify which liners they will accept.

    Liners are usually made from virgin polyethylene (film or woven polyolefins), allowing coffee to be transported safely in an enclosed chamber, thus avoiding contamination from pollutants and salt sea air. The liner therefore protects the coffee from external influences such as moisture and, in case of condensation occurring on the container's inside walls, it ensures that this does not affect the coffee.
    Most shipping companies and freight forwarders will be able to provide information on the availability and cost of liners but it may be advisable to obtain your buyer's agreement before choosing any particular type or make. Note also that coffee should only be shipped in bulk with the buyer's prior consent.

    Go to 05.02, Shipping in containers (Link below), for more. Useful links are: www.cargosystems.net (international shipping press articles), www.ponl.com (P&O NedLloyd website), www.maersk.com (Maersk Shipping Line website).

    Posted 8 February 2005

    Related chapter(s):
    Related Q & A:
    QA 004 (dry-bags)