How green is your tea?
With single-use plastics making regular headlines, focusing predominantly on bottles, bags, spoons and coffee cups, it’s easy to think you’ve got this whole eco thing down.
But in fact there are still areas where things aren’t quite as green as they seem. Did you know, far from being biodegradable, many tea bag manufacturers heat seal the corners of their teabags with plastic fibres (usually polypropylene)?
That means 158 million plastic-sealed teabags are used each day, adding up to 57 billion a year, leaving about 180,000kg of tea waste that can’t be composted without releasing billions of plastic micro-particles into the environment.
So, what’s the alternative? Well, thankfully some brands have already found ways to secure tea in the bag without any harmful materials.
Organic and fair herbal tea company Pukka Herbs instead uses a stitch (certified organic cotton, of course). Established in 2001, it pioneered this method of holding bags together without resorting to staples or plastic.
Although it’s a more costly and complex process, Pukka tea drinkers can rest easy knowing their tea bag is compostable and 100% biodegradable.
That said, don’t be fooled into thinking biodegradable automatically means plastic-free. EU standards mean many of ‘pyramid’ teabags are either made from non-biodegradable nylon or a genetically-modified plant-based plastic (such as cornstarch) that is only compostable where there is industrial food collection.
And don’t forget the packaging. Essentially there are two main ways to keep a teabag fresh, protecting the high quality herbs and essential oils; wrapping the individual bag (like Pukka) or the entire box.
While individual envelopes have the benefit of keeping unused teabags fresh when the box is open, it can create more rubbish. Pukka have been researching and developing for four years and have now created a recyclable polypropylene-free envelope. It’s currently used in five of the herbal blends and, by the end of 2018, will be used across all Pukka teas. Though they do still include a very thin coating of plastic to retain freshness, they can be put in the paper recycling bin.