Does Your Cup of Tea Have Plastic In It?? Find the Tea Brands That Do & Those That Are Plastic Free
Author: Wholesome Hub Date Posted:27 July 2018
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Shockingly, most tea bags today are made with plastic which isn’t great for us and it pollutes our planet. So grab yourself a non plastic cup of tea, find out how plastic ended up in your tea bags, which teas to choose and which to avoid.
The issue of plastic pollution is on everyone’s lips at the moment. But could plastic literally be on your lips?
It’s been a long time since drinking tea had to be a loose leaf tea and tea strainer affair, with most of us now preferring the convenience of a tea bag. Most of the time, tea bags come in a recyclable cardboard box (as long as we opt for brands that don’t also use a cellophane wrapper) or maybe a reusable tin tea caddy. So far, so planet-friendly.
But it's shocking to learn that many of the tea bags we use to make our seemingly innocent tea, contain plastic. Not very planet-friendly, not the best for us and this also not very suitable for our food bin collections or the compost heap.
Plastic? In Tea Bags?!
We’re afraid so.
WHILIST TEA BAGS ARE MADE OF PAPER PULP, TEA MANUFACTURERS NOW ADD POLYPROPYLENE TO THE FIBRES THAT MAKE THE TEA BAGS, TO HELP “HEAT SEAL” THEM.
This is apparently to prevent the bags splitting open during transit or when we pour boiling water on them. Each plastic-containing tea bag is thought to contain around 20-30% polypropylene.
Polypropylene has a high melting point, allowing it to withstand 100°C water. It’s also used to make food containers that are suitable for the microwave and dishwasher. It’s so hardy in fact, that it’s really hard to break it down at all, and requires exceptionally high heat to do so. An environmental nightmare.
And the environment aside, despite polypropylene being deemed safe for use in the food industry at high temperatures, it has been linked with female fertility problems (it mimics the female sex hormone, oestrogen), the disruption of other hormones and allergies. The jury is still out, there simply isn’t enough evidence to fully understand the effects of polypropylene on the human body, but is the use of this plastic in tea bags even necessary?
Which Tea Brands Use Plastic?
According to the Ethical Consumer magazine, sadly and virtually every tea bag sold in the UK contains plastic with the biggest brands being PG Tips (by Unilever), Tetley’s, Yorkshire Tea, Taylors, Clipper, Aldi and Twinings all among the offenders. Since their article back in March 2018, and after more than 200,000 people signed a petition, Unilever has announced that they would try and make their PG Tips tea bags plastic free by the end of the year. This is great news and not only does it save 10 billion plastic tea bags from harming our environment but it shows that what you think matters and people power does really work!
Ethical Tea Drinking is More than Fairtrade
When we think of being ethical in our food and drink choices, drinking sustainable or Fairtrade tea, where the farmer has been paid a fair price for their tea leaves and is able to work and live in decent conditions, might be top of the list. It seems a fair and easy swap to make, switching from standard, leading brands, to smaller batch, ethical tea growers with sustainability and fairness at their core.
But with no need to be explicit about the use of plastic in the bag’s manufacture post-farmer, it seems opting for Fairtrade isn’t the only thing to think about.
Plastic-Free, in Your Tea
Aside from our love of coffee, we Australians adore tea. Stats from Roy Morgan Research in 2016 suggest that on average, we each drink 9.5 cups of tea every week. It’s the fourth most popular drink, after tap water, milk and coffee.
And the tea loving Brits beat that. They drink on average, 17.5 cups each per week, amounting to 60 billion cups per year. According to Ethical Consumer magazine, this equates to 150 tonnes of polypropylene from tea bags in the UK alone, languishing in landfill. And using my best high school maths, based on these figures and our tea consumption, we Aussies are adding 81 tonnes of polypropylene into landfill.
Because the problem with plastic is, like we mentioned above in the case of polypropylene, it’s a robust material that likes to stick around.
EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF PLASTIC EVEN MANUFACTURED, STILL EXISTS IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER TODAY WHICH MEANS EVERY TEA BAG WITH PLASTIC IN IT, IS STILL SITTING SOMEWHERE TOO.
Rather than breaking down, plastic breaks up, into smaller and smaller pieces, that either end up in the soil, or leach into waterways and the oceans. Here they become an unpalatable dinner for unsuspecting sea creatures.
How Love Tea Got Things Spot On
Love Tea are an Australian brand who work directly with small cooperatives and tea growers to produce their organic teas. As well as ensuring a great taste, they do all they can to minimise the impact of their tea production on the environment. They trade fairly and are part of the 1% For The Planet initiative, giving 1% of their annual sales to environmental organisations.
We can only imagine the fabulous tasting sessions and discussions that went on at the family-run Love Tea HQ when deciding on the best solution for their tea pyramids. They wanted their material to allow for the best release of flavours as well as being fully compostable.
They settled on a material made from plant starch called Soilon which is suitable for domestic and industrial compost heaps. Although the bags do take a while to fully compost (six to 12 months) as long as they’re fully covered, their own tests show that the bags “well and truly degrade”. They use high quality loose leaf tea in their tea pyramids which gives a far superior taste over the ‘dust grade’ tea commonly used in other bags.
Proving that with passion and determination, tea bags really don't have to contain any plastic at all. Even the bags that contain the Love Tea tea bags (or loose leaf teas) are made from a compostable paper-based ‘cellophane’. These will compost in one to three months in the right conditions.
If we want to be truly environmentally-friendly, then Love Tea believe we should opt for loose leaf tea. It takes fewer resources including energy and packaging to produce, and ultimately creates less waste. And the added bonus is that it’s also more cost effective!
But if we want the convenience of a tea bag, then thankfully, more tea brands are pledging to become plastic-free, increasing our choices as mindful consumers.
Pyramid, circular or square, whatever your (tea) bag, opt for plastic-free. Along with ditching the plastic straws, coffee cups, water bottles and food containers, we can all make a difference, and make this planet a much happier place to live, for all the creatures that inhabit it.