With the beginning of a new season, it’s time to put your swimsuits away, take out your warm sweaters, and make yourself a nice cup of tea. Tea season is officially open, and if you are a major tea lover who is also concerned about the environment, this article is for you!
Most tea drinkers—about 96%—choose tea bags rather than tea leaves. They’re practical, fast, and there is less room to create a mess when preparing a cup of this famous drink. The first modern tea bag was invented by accident more than 100 years ago by Thomas Sullivan when he shipped samples of tea around the world in small silk bags. Some of his costumers assumed that the bags were supposed to be dunked in hot water just like traditional metal tea infusers and, serendipitously, the tea bag was created. As tea bags entered mass production, cheaper paper was used instead of fabric. Nowadays, most brands no longer use wood pulp to make their paper, but a vegetable fibre derived from the abaca plant, a relative of the banana grown mostly in Indonesia and Colombia.
However, what you may not be aware of is that several tea bag brands use polypropylene, a sealing plastic, to keep the tea bags from falling apart. So, even when you put all your used tea bags in the food waste or compost heap, it can still lead to plastic pollution. Biodegradable or compostable tea bags with no plastic do already exist, so it is worth checking your favourite brand’s labelling to make sure. In addition to that, you might also want to check if your tea contains excess plastic packaging—even when you’ve got your plastic-free tea sorted, it may come wrapped in several unnecessary layers of plastic.
Some iconic brands like Tetley, PG Tips, Clipper, Yorkshire Tea, and Dilmah still sell tea bags with polypropylene plastic in their constitution, although the switch to biodegradable materials is predicted to happen very soon. Tetley began trialling environmentally friendly plastic-free tea bags in its manufacturing plants in April 2018. PG Tips announced in February 2018 that they are working to make all of their tea bags biodegradable by the end of 2018, and their pyramid bags now use corn starch adhesive in place of polypropylene. Clipper Teas, which champions the unbleached teabags, pledged to introduce a fully biodegradable bag by the summer 2018. Yorkshire Tea launched their new renewable, biodegradable, and compostable tea bags in May 2018 and is aiming for a full switch in all their products by the end of 2019. Finally, Dilmah released a statement on their Facebook page in June 2018, manifesting their intentions to reduce the amount of plastic currently present in their tea bags by 50% by the end of this year, planning to eliminate them altogether within 2 years.
Other brands, however, have had 100% compostable and biodegradable tea bags for a while. Twinings’ Loose Leaf pyramid tea bag range contains no plastic and is fully biodegradable, although their “heat-sealed” and “string and tag” teas still include plastic at the moment. Pukka Herbs launched fully compostable, unbleached tea bags that are free of plastic and staples, and are tied together with organic, non-GMO, unbleached cotton. Moreover, since May, Pukka Herbs’ tea bags contain only a very thin layer of BPA and PVC-free plastic, so they can be recycled along with paper. We are Tea was the first brand to remove the paper tags from teabags and moved from nylon bags to ones made from a bi-product of corn starch in 2012. In addition, each tea bag is sealed by ultrasound instead of glue, making them biodegradable. Teapigs was the first tea brand to receive the world’s first plastic-free trust mark. These biodegradable bags are made from corn starch, while the paper tags use vegetable inks and, believe it or not, the “plastic” inner bag is also compostable.
Nevertheless, if you feel that tea bags are not quite your style, there’s nothing better that a cup of loose-leaf tea. You have always the option of going bulk and opt for either a metal infuser or washable fill-your-own bag, made from non-woven fabric.
Whatever way you decide to go, know it’s possible to easily enjoy a hot and steamy cup of tea, full of flavour and free of plastic every time.
Would plastic in your tea put you off your favourite brew? Do you always opt for tea bags or do you prefer loose leaf tea?
Growing up surrounded by nature, Maria’s idea of a perfect scenario resumes itself to a green, sunny and quiet one. She loves to cook vegan food (and even more to eat it), long one-on-one chats, to swim in the ocean, live music, to play the ukulele and a good book.
Her life goal is to travel the world, saving wildlife species and habitats.