Excuse the awful pun in the title, I couldn’t resist. Jokes aside, according to The Guardian, teabags produced by top tea manufacturers such as Tetley, PG Tips, Twinnings, Clipper and Typhoo are only between 70-80% biodegradable whilst advising us to still compost them. As a result, gardeners are finding the net part of teabags – caused by the inclusion of thermoplastic fibre (polypropylene) woven into the teabag paper – left on their compost heaps. (Update 28 February 2018: PG Tips, who account for the majority of teabags consumed daily in the UK, have agreed to switch to 100% biodegradable teabags by the end of the year!).
I did a bit of research into the organic tea ranges: Clipper teabags say on their website that the standard square or round teabags contain polypropylene in order to be heat sealed. The bags on a string with a tag on the other hand do not contain any plastic. These are therefore preferable. Tick Tock also use polypropylene to seal the bags. Their sister company Dragonfly have different options however – their Tea House and Speciality ranges do not contain plastic.
Heather & Heath and Yogi Tea customer services both confirmed that they do not use plastic in their teabags. However, unfortunately like so many tea companies they use plastic envelopes to package each teabag individually which cannot be recycled. H&H supposedly have a plan to make “all packaging fully compostable and recyclable this year”. I’ve told them that until then I won’t be buying their tea again.
Composting teabags is the better environmental option, but you need to tear the bags first. Otherwise the remaining plastic fibres just disperse in the soil which our homegrown produce then feeds off. We also don’t want to be drinking boiled tea with plastic in it, heaven knows we already have enough of it in our own bloodstream!
Best option: LOOSE TEA – less packaging, less plastic and also allows the medicinal qualities of tea leaves to enter the water, which don’t come through the teabag otherwise. I know it’s annoying to have to always handle loose tea but you can buy a reusable dip-in tea strainer, or biodegradable single-use paper strainers, or buy a water bottle with an inbuilt removable tea strainer for convenience.
Tip: If drinking tea for medicinal reasons you also want to cover your tea while it brews to avoid the essential oils from evaporating. If you want to go even further, metal chemically alters the medicinal components of the plants (supposedly). It is therefore better to use ceramic, cotton or paper tea strainers if possible.
Action: Email the tea company you use and ask them for information on their teabags and the envelope packaging. Put pressure on them to make their teabags and packaging fully compostable and recyclable. The more emails they receive, the better. 20-30% plastic in our teabags is terrible on our environment and our health considering that in the UK we go through millions of teabags daily.