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.
- Hannah Sell’s Tea
Offers cotton tea bags with drawsting, truly plastic-free
- Duchy Organics
Plastic-free tea bags, organic and all profits go to charitable causes. They do wrap plastic around their boxes though.
- 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.)
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
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
- Abel & Cole – organic tea bags
- Pukka Tea
- Clipper – use plant-derived pla which can be composted but only in industrial facilities (read more about pla)
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.)
- Marks and Spencer
- 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
- Hampstead Tea – organic and fairtrade
Any recommendations for tea bags or loose leaf tea? Add your comments below.
References and Sources
The web sites of the tea companies
Emails received from the tea companies
Tweets from the tea companies
The Ethical Consumer