Reusable water bottle? Check. Reusable straws? Check. Reusable coffee cup? Check. Glass wine bottles? Definitely check. When it comes to having a drink, we can choose to go plastic free, our eco credentials remaining intact.
Can what we put into our bottles and cups also be plastic free? That’s crazy, I hear you say, of course it can!
You’d think so, wouldn’t you? When it comes to the humble cuppa, why do we need to consider finding plastic free tea bags? Tea bags are paper and tea leaves, sometimes with a bit of string, right?
Aside from microplastics entering the water we use to make our tea, our tea bags may also contain plastic. So to be plastic free when drinking tea, we need to consider our brand of tea bag as well as what we drink it from.
Reducing packaging waste is on the minds of many. Thankfully, plastic free tea bags are now a thing. Here’s how to find them!
Why Some Tea Bags Contain Plastic
Many ‘pillow’ or pyramid style tea bags have tiny strips of polypropylene plastic woven into them. This is used to heat seal the bags closed. It prevents the tea escaping from the bags during transport and storage, and when we add hot water to them. It also helps to keep the tea leaves fresh.
Tea bags with a string and tag can also contain plastic. As well as polypropylene in the bag itself, the string is often held in place with a tiny piece of polypropylene.
For reasons of freshness, many tea bags also now come in individual sachets. Although often made from paper, these sachets can also be lined with plastic. Plus of course, many boxes of tea bags come wrapped in cellophane.
What Are Plastic Free Tea Bags Made From and Why Should I Use Them?
Tea bags need to be sealed in some way. Instead of polypropylene, plastic free tea bags contain a bioplastic. This bioplastic is made from plant sources, usually corn starch or maize. It does the same job as polypropylene, without the microplastics.
(One small note on bioplastics – they can be made from genetically modified maize. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are not permitted in organic tea bags. If the thought of GMOs scares you, always opt for organic plastic free tea bag brands.)
Microplastics are defined as small pieces of plastic, less than 5mm in diameter. They’re produced when larger items such as plastic bags and water bottles break down.
The tiny bits of polypropylene in tea bags are already considered microplastics. In other words, they contain ready made environmental nightmares.
There’s also the health risks of ingesting plastics, either from our water, or from our tea bags. Scientists have already found traces of microplastics in human stool samples. Thus proving that we are ingesting them.
So far, researchers don’t fully understand the consequences of this. But it certainly doesn’t sound ideal.
This is why finding a plastic free tea bag brand that you like is so important. It might feel like using less plastic could be tackled by making much bigger changes. But us Brits get through more than a million cups of tea every single day so that’s an awful lot of microplastics.
And an awful lot of potential for change.
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Tea Bags and Composting
Plastic free tea bags can also be composted, and composting food waste is a great way of putting your food scraps to better use.
Potentially, there’s a million tea bags going into food waste bins up and down the country. A large proportion of them will contain plastic. This plastic will end up in our soil and waterways and that’s the last place we want it.
But the eco heavens shine down on us, providing us with plastic free tea bags aplenty.
The Brands Offering Tea Bags Without Plastic
My mint tea bags and my kettle are my comfort and excuse to get up from my desk. There’s plenty of desk dwellers like me as well as people from Yorkshire and builders all over the UK, drinking tea by the gallon on a daily basis.
So for the sanity of eco tea drinkers everywhere, here’s the brands to look out for.
Hampstead Tea hold the Ethical Consumer Magazine Best Buy Award. Their tea bags are all made using non GMO sugar starch and are fully compostable.
Pukka Herb tea bags are individually wrapped in paper, and are plastic free. The bag and string are tied together with a tiny stitch of organic cotton.
Clipper Teas are completely plastic free and non GMO. They’re also working on reducing the weight of their packaging, making their transport less carbon heavy.
Teapigs tea bags are fully compostable and plastic free. (Although they do suggest adding them to council food waste collections rather than adding them to home compost heaps). The plastic bag they’re contained within is also made from a compostable bioplastic.
So far, so herbal. Hampstead Tea, Pukka Herbs, Clipper and Teapigs do make ‘normal’ tea as well as herbal and fruit teas. But what if you’re looking for a bog standard, yet plastic free tea bag?
In February 2018, PG Tips announced a new range of plastic free tea bags. They promise that all their tea bags will be plastic free by the end of 2019. Check their packaging to make sure you’re getting their plastic free version.
The Co-Op are also busy removing plastic from their own brand tea bags. Their Fairtrade 99 Tea Blend round tea bags are already plastic free.
Twinings loose leaf pyramid tea bags are plastic free. But beware, as the rest of their range i.e. the non pyramid bags, currently contain plastic.
A Relatively Simple Switch
Switching to a plastic free tea bag feels like a fairly easy switch to make. At the moment, a lot of the brands opting to remove plastic from their tea bags are more expensive than the average box of black tea bags.
The brand Yorkshire Tea has plans to become completely plastic free by the end of 2019. With big brands like this getting on board, we can all live in hope of a plastic free cup of tea.
I hope that one day soon, all tea bags will be free from plastic. Then it’ll be another thing we can tick off our list of things to worry about.
In the meantime, I think it’s about time I put the kettle on…