Lifestyle,  Sustainability

What’s Wrong With My Tea Bags?

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The humble tea bag; a wonderfully innocent, quintessentially English, and marvellously harmless feature of many of our daily lives. 
Or so we thought. Unfortunately, that’s just not true. 
We all know that plastic is a bad thing, and we all know we should be avoiding it where possible, recycling it at every opportunity, and generally trying to find alternatives to as many single-use plastics as possible. But even though plastic is in – or wrapped around – nearly everything in our lives, there are a few places left untouched. 
Up until recently, tea was thought to be one of these untouched places. And indeed, you’d be forgiven for not immediately thinking of plastic when someone mentions a nice hot cup of tea, or for not imagining sipping that same nice hot cup of tea when someone mentions the problems surrounding plastics. The two hardly fit together, and it’s not surprising that you wouldn’t automatically put them together.

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But unfortunately tea and plastic have a much more complex relationship than originally thought.

Tea comes in little paper bags, and those little paper bags usually come together in a cardboard box, which is – 9 times out of 10 – wrapped in a plastic cover. So the plastic cover sucks, and there are already some tea companies out there, such as Pukka, who aren’t wrapping their tea bag boxes in plastic. Hopefully this is the beginning of a trend the other companies will follow suit soon enough.

Plastic wrapping aside, the real problem with tea and plastic lies in the tea bag itself.
Now, I always thought those little bags were made of paper, didn’t you?
Turns out we were half right, and half terribly wrong.

Photo by Jorge Garcia on Unsplash

While tea bags are made from a paper, or plant based, material, they are also laced with plastic. Most notably, with a thin layer of polypropylene along the edges of the bags in order to heat seal them, although many companies have also been using plastic in the ‘fabric’ of their bags too.

This is frustrating, not just because it means we’re potentially drinking plastic particles every time we have a cup of tea, but also because we were just about to start using our used tea bags for compost for our vegetable growing endeavour. Plastic doesn’t compost, and I don’t want to feeding our plants, that we’re going to be eating, plastic chemicals. You only have to have a quick glance at the internet to see the stories of gardeners tired of having to remove tea bag ‘skeletons’ from their gardens and compost heaps.
Plus when the natural materials in those tea bags break down what’s left? You guessed it – the plastic. And where do you think that plastic is going to end up? You guessed it again – the ocean, along with all the other single-use plastics and micro-beads and things we could easily go without.

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

But don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom and you don’t have to stop drinking tea altogether in order to avoid the plastic. You have options.

For a start there’s always loose leaf tea, which is wonderfully good for you, and holds a better flavour due to being larger in size and holding more natural oils. The tea that you get in your bags is essentially dust, and due to being fragmented, hold less of its natural flavour and depth.
There is also an argument that a lot of pesticide is used in the growing of tea, and that the tea which goes into your bags is rarely washed, meaning that you could be ingesting a lot of chemicals. The argument is that loose leaf tea is always washed properly so you don’t have to worry about that, but I don’t know the truth of all this as it’s not something I’ve researched, so please don’t take my word for it, I may be wrong.

Going back on track; the other thing you can do to avoid the plastic in your tea bags is to shop wisely. Be a smart consumer and look for the brands that use less plastic, or none at all, in their bags and their packaging. To help you along I’ve done some internet research and found some brands that you should look for when trying to do your tea shopping sustainably.

Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash

So, if you’re looking for plastic free tea bags then the research says you should be scanning the shelves for Pukka, whose bags contain no plastic and are sewn shut with organic cotton thread. You’ll also be safe with Teapigs, who claim that their teabags are made with a biodegradable product of corn starch, Jacksons of Piccadilly also claim to be completely plastic free.

To give you the other side of the coin, so you know what to avoid, a recent Guardian article stated that Which? Gardening had spoken to a range of tea companies throughout the country and had discovered that PG Tips, Twining, Tetley, Typhoo, and Clipper, all well known brands, all produce tea bags which are only 70% – 80% biodegradable.

So it’s up to you, do you boycott the plastic tea bags and look out for the natural ones, or do you quit bagged tea altogether and opt for the loose leaf variety.

I’m going to try loose leaf tea. I’ve wondered about it for a while now as I’ve heard lots about it’s having a better flavour with more depth. I’ll let you know how I get on.

On another note, there are some totally cute little tea pots for loose leaf tea. You could have a wonderful time going tea pot and tea shopping if you make the switch!

Photo by Vee O on Unsplash

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I'm a creative writer with a busy mind living in the quirky town of Stroud. I'm a fast thinker and a true daydreamer, ready to be distracted by pretty much anything at all. On a mission to find ways to live more sustainably, and excited about learning, travelling, and experiencing as much as possible. This is my adventure.

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