Nothing is sacred. Turns out even my beloved cup of tea isn’t plastic-free.
I had always thought that tea bags were biodegradable, compostable and made out of paper. Well, no. Tea bags contain polypropylene which is a sealant used across the industry to enable tea bags to hold their shape. Polypropylene is also used for things like yoghurt containers and deli food containers.
It is the polypropylene which means that tea bags are not biodegradable; these tiny particles do not break down, and eventually find their way into the soil or landfill. And, while it may only be a tiny amount of plastic in each tea bag, when you consider that 6 BILLION tea bags are used annually in the UK alone then the total impact is big. How big? Well, those 6 billion bags equate to 150 tonnes of polypropylene.
And the other thing – who wants plastic in their cuppa? Polypropylene actually has a high heat tolerance, so is less likely to leach chemicals than other types of plastic. But still, I’d rather not take the risk…especially with the amount of tea I drink, British stereotype that I am.
So, what can we do?
Check Your Bags…
Not all brands use polypropylene, and some brands are working on moving to plastic-free. I did a little bit of research on this and I found that my absolute favourite, Yorkshire Tea, contains 25% polypropylene (I can feel a petition coming on). It’s worth checking the website of your favourite brand if they aren’t listed here…
These ranges do not contain plastic…and yes, they tend towards the pricier side
- Twinings ‘loose leaf pyramid’ tea bags
- Aldi’s ‘Specially Selected’ range
- Waitrose’s ‘Duchy Originals’ range
- Tea Pigs
- Pukka Herbs
- Co-op are working on moving all their own label tea-bags to plastic free
Yorkshire Tea, Tetley and PG Tips all contain plastic as do Twinings ‘heat sealed’ and ‘string and tag’ ranges.
I read this when doing the research and it kind of made my blood boil (no kettle related pun intended). This is a quote from an article in The Guradian, from a spokesperson for the UK Tea and Infusions Association:
“The UK tea industry has been experimenting with non-plastic sealing methods, but those methods are costly. The raw material cost and upgrades to machinery would increase the cost of a bag by about eight times if we were to move to a non-plastic sealing procedure now. We know that a significant price rise would have a severely negative effect on sales and seriously reduce the income of farmers from some of the poorest tea-growing regions of the world.”
No mention that actually we should be taking responsibility for the planet, that – heaven forbid – the manufacturers should suck it up and do the right thing…but no, instead this is a weird guilt trip that if plastic is taken out of tea bags then actually consumers are doing the wrong thing by the poorest people. Does this irritate anyone else?!
One way of avoiding the issue altogether is by moving to loose leaf tea. And it’s a good excuse to use a nice teapot. However, I usually make tea for one and can’t be bothered with the faff of a teapot just for me. So my new favourite thing is this teacup from Bioteaque. I found it when we were on holiday and was an instant convert; it has a tea strainer that sits in the pot and a lid which keeps the tea warm while it brews…and then can be used to sit the strainer on. No mess, no faff. And I’m a sucker for a nicely shaped cup…this one is a perfect hand-hugger of a mug. I also love their Detox tea….and I reuse the tea several times so it lasts me a while.
There are other similar options to this available here. Another option is to use a tea strainer that sits inside your cup…I have a couple of these that I bought in Ikea, but I find them a bit more fiddly .
And if I were going to splash out on a new teapot…how lovely are these?