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Put the kettle on: Your 5 minute guide to plastic free tea

Eating & Drinking
5 minute guide

Georgina Wilson-Powell

14 February 2018

Off the back of widespread realisation we are drowning in single use plastic and microplastic particles are everywhere, tea lovers have been dismayed recently to discover that many traditional teabags contain small amounts of plastic, called polypropylene, often used in heat sealing methods in teabag production. 

A teabag might be small and the amounts of plastic tiny, but considering we Brits get through 165 million cups of tea a day (and 96% of those cups use teabags according to the UK Tea and Infusions Association) that all mounts up. 

Those small particles of plastic leach into the soil if you're composting or through landfill. That's about 180,000kg of nutritious tea waste that can’t be composted without releasing billions of plastic microparticles into the land and sea. 

Plastic Free Tea Cover1

Time for tea? How many cups do you have a day?

Twinings, PG Tips, Tetley and Yorkshire Tea all contain plastic says BBC News. 

And being biodegradable doesn’t always cut it out either, says Kate Willacy at Pukka Herbs.

“Don’t be fooled into thinking that biodegradable tea bags are automatically plastic-free. EU standards allow for a certain amount plastic content when determining if a product can be classed as biodegradable.

Many of the ‘pyramid’ teabags are either made from non-biodegradable nylon or a genetically-modified plant-based plastic (such as cornstarch) that only decomposes where there is industrial food collection.”

Consumer demand to stop unwittingly dunking plastic in with our milk and hot water, has lead to a range of promised solutions. The Co-Op is developing a biodegradable teabag for its Fairtrade range while other multi-nationals are exploring alternative heat sealing methods.

Traidcraft are also developing a new loose leaf tea range, which will be available from next March 2018.

"There’s a huge demand for sustainable and recyclable packaging from consumers at present, and plastic-free teabags is one of the everyday items we feel like we should be able to change," says Caroline Hardaker at Traidcraft.

"The truth is, if consumers refused to buy bagged tea and reverted back to loose leaf tea, the plastic-free teabag problem would be solved. Perhaps as well as plastic-free packaging, we should also be moving towards entirely packaging-free tea – which in turn would also help ease the other huge issues in the packaging world, such as aluminium and mineral oil contamination."

What can you do to avoid plastic in your tea right now?

Pukka

Pukka teas are 100% plastic free. Yes the brand is now owned by Unilever, but it’s commitment production and packaging is some of the best we’ve seen.

“Pukka Herbs tea bags are double chambered (two sides, folded in the middle, cradling the herbs to freely infuse) and are stitched at the top of the bag using a certified organic cotton string. Pukka was the first company to ever use this organic string to hold its staple-free and plastic-free tea bag together. Although a more costly and complex process, each tea bag guarantees that Pukka tea drinkers can rest assured there is no plastic in their cup of tea and their tea bag is compostable as well as 100% biodegradable,” assures Willacy.

Plastic Free Tea Pukka

Pukka's teabags contain no plastic and come with an organic cotton string

Teapigs

Teapigs pyramid teabags are plastic free. They're made from cornstarch and paper and will biodegrade in a council food waste bin but they're not ideal for composting at home as the cornstarch takes a long time to break down. 

However the clear plastic looking inner bag is now compostable - it's made from a wood pulp material called NatureFlex and is being rolled out across the whole range. Teapigs offer everything from everyday breakfast tea to yerba and matcha blends.

Plastic Free Tea Teapigs

Teapigs pyramid teabags don't contain any plastic

We Are Tea

We Are Tea's plastic free teabags are also made from cornstarch, made into a material called soilon. While the We Are Tea range includes rooibos, herbal infusions and loose leaf versions, the tea and teabags come in a single plastic bag at the moment but the brand is changing this for biodegradable cellophane this year.

Plastic Free Tea We Are Tea

We Are Tea's teabags don't contain plastic and the brand's moving to biodegradable cellophane this year

Good and Proper

Good and Proper Tea started selling loose leaf but have now packaged up their six most popular blends into plastic free teabags, made of Soilon (from cornstarch) which does make them compostable. Their teabag range includes peppermint, Earl Grey, Jade Tips and Chamomile. While the outer wrap is recyclable, this sustainably minded brand is working on a greener solution to this as well.

Plastic Free Tea Good And Proper

Choose a compostable teabag from Good and Proper Tea

But while teabags are always going to be popular, we've seen a rise in loose leaf teas amongst consumers concerned about packaging and waste. Loose leaf tea (unless you're buying it in a zero waste shop) often comes in a single plastic bag but the loose tea leaves can be composted.

Nemi

London based Nemi Tea’s loose leaf tea comes in biodegradable tubes and it uses a good cuppa to power its social enterprise. Brew up a cup of plastic free Spicy Chai tea, which comes from a Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade certified Indian estate.

The brand employs and trains refugees to run tea stalls, helping them with language skills and routes into work. Over 50% of its profits goes into its social impact goals.

T2

T2’s new loose tea range, Brews with Benefits, come in cardboard boxes with a single plastic bag or in larger tin caddies. The Sleep Tight loose leaf tea contains lemon balm, lavender, jasmine blossoms, rose petals to calm you down before bedtime.

Plastic Free Tea T2

T2's tea cubes make perfect gifts.

Chateau Rouge

Upgrade your cuppa this winter with some peppermint and honeybush organic tea from luxury loose tea specialist, Chateau Rouge. The honeybush is handpicked, the mint Moroccan and the taste is perfect with some dark chocolate. It comes in a tin caddy and the cardboard is all biodegradable and printed with vegetable inks.

Plastic Free Tea Chateau Rouge

Take time for a proper cuppa. Now where's that teapot gone?

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