…if you’re eco-conscious, that is.
In the UK we drink around 36 billion cups of tea every year* with 96% of tea drinkers buying tea bags rather than tea leaves which equates to 150,000 tons of polypropylene plastic ‘glue’. This is “is an enormous amount of accumulated plastic waste that was either contaminating food waste compost collections or simply going to landfill”, according to Co-op Food’s CEO Jo Whitfield.
But 2018 was a significant year in the war against the tea bag, yet another single plastic-use culprit. The previous year a gardener launched a 38 degrees petition after finding white residue from teabags in his compost. Mr. Armitage suggested that the plastic contained in the soil could be washed into streams and rivers and ultimately out to sea. PG tips switched to plastic-free tea bags after 200,000 people signed the petition and Typhoo, Tetley, Twinings and Yorkshire Tea have all followed suit.
“David Attenborough has rightly highlighted the damage we’re doing to the sea with microbeads and carrier bags, but given how much tea we drink in Britain, this could be an even bigger problem”^.
Until late 2018 when we switched to loose-leaf tea, I thought I was doing the right thing by putting our used tea bags into our compost caddy, but I was unknowingly contributing to plastic pollution. Most teabags are not biodegradable because they’re made using polypropylene to seal the bags most of which cannot be broken down and recycled and the practice is industry-wide.
I now love the sense of ceremony and occasion involved in making a cup or pot of loose-leaf tea and haven’t looked back. This was definitely helped by the lovely diffuser teapot and tea cozy my husband bought me for Christmas! But I’m the first to admit that it seemed like an effort to make just one cup of loose-leaf tea at first, let alone a pot.
I really struggled to find a loose-leaf tea that didn’t come surrounded in plastic even if the outer packaging was made of cardboard, but I’ve now found a few 100% plastic-free, loose-leaf tea brands. Whilst many loose-leaf brands use plastic in their foil packaging, it’s still better than the alternative from a sustainability standpoint. But if you want to go the whole hog and avoid plastic altogether here are some great options:
“Like everyone else I thought teabags were just tea and paper and, therefore, completely safe to put in compost…It was only when I saw the white fluff, like the inside of a duvet, that I started looking into what’s in them”.^
If you’d prefer to support your local shops rather than online or in the supermarkets, zero-waste shops, deli’s and independent cafés are often a great alternative, especially as you can often pay by weight and/or bring your own containers.
But if the sustainability issues surrounding the manufacturing process of tea isn’t enough to convert you to plastic-free teabags or loose-leaf tea, polypropylene is also used in carpets, mats, and rugs. upholstery, toys, bags and luggage appliances and household items to name a few
* according to the ITC
^ Mike Armitage quoted in
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