Straining to find a plastic free cuppa.

I didn’t know tea bags contained plastic, until a friend mentioned it a few months ago. I had noticed the wispy tissue-like skeletons in my compost, but I just thought this was because the tea bags took longer to decompose than the other materials and assumed they would eventually break down in the soil. Then it dawned on me, these were the non-compostable remnants of my tea bags and I’d been polluting my garden with plastic.

So I followed my friend’s example and left my tea bags out to dry, cut them open and emptied the tea into my compost pot. Unsurprisingly, after only a short time I got fed up with this new method! My fingers looked nicotine stained from handling the tea bags and if I let them accumulate, they developed mould, making the job even more unpleasant. There had to be a better way.

With tea bags accounting for approximately a quarter of my composting, and composting saving the equivalent energy of running my kettle each year, I couldn’t bear to give up and throw them in the refuse. So I went online in search of a ‘plastic free’ tea bag. Success! I found a brand and it was stocked locally. The tea bags are unbleached, Fairtrade, organic and they don’t cost the earth. I switched to the new brand and continued enjoying my cuppa, for a while at least.

A few months down the line, tucked away in a news article about how the mainstream brands are trialling ‘plastic free tea bags’, I discovered something worrying about my own teabags. Whilst they are labelled ‘plastic free’ they contain a ‘renewable, plant based bio polymer’ or ‘bioplastic’ made from banana. This material isn’t fossil fuel based, instead it is naturally sourced and sustainable BUT some bioplastics take as long as ‘fossil based’ plastics to degrade and contribute to pollution. I had entered the minefield of product labelling. My ‘banana polymer’ tea bags were compostable but only in an industrial composter where temperatures are higher than those reached in a garden composter. I had gone full circle and was back where I had started all those months before – still contaminating the environment!

By coincidence, in the same week I had the nicest cup of tea I’ve had in years, made for me by another friend who only ever uses loose tea. So, decision made, loose tea must be the way forward.