Updated 15 October 2019
It came as a surprise to most people to learn that tea bags contained plastic. The plastic in question is polypropylene, which seals the tea bag and helps the bag retain its shape in boiling water. Is this important for the tea taste? Not really – it is said to let the tea move around more freely and brew more quickly.

Some tea bags are even worse and made entirely of plastic (nylon and polyethylene terephthalate). Recent research found that just one of these releases about 11.6 billion microplastic and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles into the hot tea! This means that humans may be exposed to orders of magnitude more plastic particles than has been reported from previous food and drink studies.

So, if you would rather not put plastic in your tea or your compost heap, or just want to dispense with single-use plastic, what are your choices? The best option is loose leaf tea. If you don’t want to make a pot try a tea infuser. If you can’t give up tea bags, try these.

  1. Hannah Sell’s Tea
    Offers cotton tea bags with drawsting, truly plastic-free
  2. Duchy Organics
    Plastic-free tea bags, organic and all profits go to charitable causes. They do wrap plastic around their boxes though.
  3. Pukka Tea
    Pukka tea bags are free from plastic. They use a simple stitch of organic cotton and a unique folding process. They were the first company to use organic string to hold teabags together without the need of a metal staple or polypropylene. Each teabag comes in its own little paper envelope which includes a very thin coating of plastic that is free from BPA and PVC. It’s so thin, though, that they say it can be recycled with normal paper. Organic and Fair Trade. Owned by Unilever.

Even if the box says that the tea bags are compostable – don’t put them in your compost bin at home. If your local authority collects a food waste bin, put them in there. Most mass produced tea bags will degrade in industrial composting facilities but not in your garden and you will be left with bits of plastic. (Many ‘plastic-free’ teabags are made using polylactic acid – PLA. This is a plant-based polymer – sometimes referred to as a bioplastic – which is industrially biodegradable but won’t degrade in a garden compost heap.)


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Checklist – Biodegradable Tea Bags & Labels – Yes or No?

Yes – Plastic-Free

  • Hannah Sell’s Tea – offers cotton tea bags with drawsting, truly plastic-free
  • Brew Tea Co
  • Teapigs
    They say that their tea bags have never contained plastic. The tea bags won’t compost at home though. They recommend putting them in your food waste bin – if your local authority operates such a collection
  • Duchy Organics
  • Steenbergs organic tea bags
  • Hampstead Tea – organic tea bags
  • We are Tea
  • Nemi
  • Abel & Cole – organic tea bags
  • Pukka Tea
  • Oteas
  • Clipper – use plant-derived pla which can be composted but only in industrial facilities (read more about pla)

No

These companies are all conducting trials but are not currently selling plastic-free tea bags. The fact that they are conducting trials though, show the power of people making a fuss about plastic.

  • Twinings (The pyramid tea bags are free from plastic, but the attached label is coated in a thin film of plastic and can’t be recyled or composted.)
  • Tetley
  • Asda
  • Co-op
  • Marks and Spencer
  • Waitrose
  • QI Teas
  • Barry’s Tea – say they are committed to taking plastic out of their tea bags after a petition gained over 10000 signatures, however there is no word on their progress
  • Lidl – exploring biodegradable polymers
  • Celestial Seasonings – use “safe, food-grade polypropylene fibers” to heat-seal the tea bags.
  • Liptons (in 2019 they told us “Lipton tea bags are mostly paper tea bags with a small percentage of plastic to bind them together, as well as some pyramid tea bags made from PET. Where we do use plastic, we are actively working towards moving out of petroleum-based to plant-based plastics.”)

Some / Maybe

  • Typhoo – only string and tag tea bags
  • Aldi – only the specially selected range
  • Sainsbury – taste the difference range
  • PG Tips – all in 2019
  • Dragonfly Tea – envelopes not currently recyclable. Although their website says plastic free, one of readers has received an email from them saying that they use “food safe polypropylene fibres”. I have contacted them for clarification and am awaiting their reply.
  • Yorkshire Tea – Some plastic-free tea bags are now available but production problems means not all.

Loose Leaf Tea without Plastic Packaging

Any recommendations for tea bags or loose leaf tea? Add your comments below.

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References and Sources

The web sites of the tea companies
Emails received from the tea companies
Tweets from the tea companies
The Ethical Consumer

32 COMMENTS

  1. I have a box of Bigelo Organic green tea. It claims the bags are 100% paper.
    .Also a box of Celestial Seasons tea claims the box is paper but doesn’t say anything about the tea bags. Any idea on the bag?
    Does removing the tea from the bag and steeping it in a mesh strainer make it safe?
    Also are coffee pods safe or should the coffee be removed and brewed in a stainless steel reusable pod? Is a plastic reusable pod safe?
    Is it only the heat that releases the plastic particles or does storing it in plastic cause the same problem?

    • Bigelo say they have some plastic-free tea bags, but their large size packs contain thermoplastic fibres.
      I can find nothing on the Celestial Seasonings web site about plastic in their tea bags, in 2014 they stated on Twitter that they used “safe, food-grade polypropylene fibers” to heat-seal the tea bags. Have asked them if they still do this.
      Yes, removing the tea from the bag is safe – but why not buy loose leaf tea to start with?
      There isn’t much research on coffee pods, however research at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713514000401 says that ” In comparison with current values proposed by European agencies for food safety, the daily intake of plasticizers from espresso coffee was very low.”
      Storing tea bags in plastic doesn’t cause a problem.
      Hope this helps!

  2. Is this limited to the “pyramid” tea bags or all tea bags? Has Twinings always had plastic or is this some thing new?

    • Some pyramid tea bags are made completely of plastic – these are the ones releasing billions of plastic particles into a cup of tea. Others (pyramid and rectangular) use plastic just to seal their bags. Not as bad as being made completely of plastic but still not compostable in a domestic compost heap. Difficult to find out when companies started using plastic in tea bags but probably for many years.

  3. In February2018 Clipper told me in an email that their teabags contain polymer fibres. Has this changed as you have them on the plastic free list?

    • Hi Amanda – Clipper switched to plastic-free teabags in October 2018. They now use PLA from non-GM plant material. PLA is polylactide which degrades into lactic acid – though very slowly indeed without industrial composting.

  4. I emailed Dragonfly tea regarding this and after a long around the house’s email exchange they admitted they use what the call “food safe polypropylene fibres”.
    So surely they should not be allowed on the plastic free list?
    How can we trust companies when they are being dishonest about it?

  5. A recent study shows that plastic tea bags release 11 billion plastic pieces in a single cup of tea steeped for five minutes, some of the pieces are tiny enough to enter a human cell. there is an article in the Washington Post about it today , The study is by Natalie lTufenkji at McGill University.

    • Barry’s tea have committed to taking plastic out of their tea bags after a petition gained over 10000 signatures (https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/barry-s-tea-make-teabags-100-compostable). They don’t seem to have made much progress towards this though – it seems like empty words.

      Yorkshire tea are hoping to switch all tea bags to plastic free by the end of the year. They have started but had some problems when they scaled up production. So, some are and some aren’t at the moment, depending on which production line they came off.

  6. Ive been buying GREEN TEA 100 tea bags, from the Dollar Tree, or 99 Cent Only store. Does anyone knoit’s of they’re free of plastic??

  7. Hello I’ve Googled Lipton’s Tea bag’s Quality Black Tea and I read that it does not contain micro plastic particles but I do not see it here or any list anywhere saying it is plastic free. Why isn’t it on this list as it is a major company ? I don’t think I trust it not being if it were I think we would see it on there list here..tks

    • According to Lipton’s “We use a range of materials for tea bags across our tea portfolio, including paper and compostable tea bags, as well as paper tea bags with a small percentage of plastic, and some pyramid tea bags made from PET.” They don’t clarify specifically about the Black Tea (even though that was what the question was about). PET is Polyethylene terephthalate – a plastic.

      I’ve asked them which of their tea bags don’t contain any plastic – will post their reply when I get it

      • Lipton’s have told me that “Lipton tea bags are mostly paper tea bags with a small percentage of plastic to bind them together, as well as some pyramid tea bags made from PET. Where we do use plastic, we are actively working towards moving out of petroleum-based to plant-based plastics.” – So none of Lipton’s are currently plastic-free – they suggest buying their loose leaf tea if concerned about plastic.

  8. Ivy’s Tea Co. is a small and woman owned herbal tea company that offers loose leaf tea. Loose leaf teas give us a full flavor that you just can’t find in bagged teas. I just can’t take the time to sort through which bagged teas are safe and which aren’t…I’ll stick to loose leaf tea.

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