According to campaigners, almost all of the 160 million tea bags consumed in the UK every day are made from single-use, non-recyclable plastic, which are polluting composts and finding their way into the oceans. As a result, sea life is under threat.
Most of the big-name brands, including Tetley and PG Tips, make their bags using plastic polymers that are the result of intensive chemical processes, which won’t biodegrade.
It can be hard to avoid in a coffee shop: Leon sells Yorkshire Tea and Taylor’s of Harrogate’s bags that are non-recyclable, and Costa uses Twinings tea bags in its stores, which are heat-sealed and contain a thin film of polypropylene.
So how can consumers ensure that our drinking habits aren’t damaging the environment? One option is to curb tea drinking habits, but being a nation addicted and trying to break the habit now feels impractical.
Instead, people must seek out merchants that deal only in green tea. True eco-teas don’t need nylon pouches to capture the flavour: from unbleached sachets to loose-leaf alternatives, the answer is in (or out of) the bag.
Swap out the sachet
Consumers are advised to swap their synthetic sachet for one that’s recyclable. Good & Proper’s Tea Bar in Clerkenwell and its van in Brockley Market: last month launched a new core range of six teas in whole leaf, 100 percent compostable bags. Just like Teapigs’ tea “temples”, the bags are made from a non-toxic material called Soilon, a fine mesh made from corn starch which can be readily broken down by micro organisms in the soil, so people don’t have to worry about them polluting the compost.
Alternatively, Heath & Heather’s tea bags are sold in Planet Organic, Revital and Holland & Barrett. They’re made from soft woods, hard woods and long fibre, and instead of using a traditional heat-sealing process like ordinary nylon tea bags, they’re folded and sewn with string.
Twinings is also going green: pop into its flagship store on The Strand to try its pyramid tea bag range, which is made from a material derived from maize starch.
At Planet Organic, Amazon and Holland & Barrett you can buy Clipper Teas’ answer to green tea: the sachets are unbleached, meaning they haven’t been through the same colouring process that ordinary tea bag have, which involves chemicals including chlorine. That practice only happens for aesthetic reasons, so the sole difference found is that Clipper’s bags look a little darker than ordinary bright white sachet.
The third option is to turn over a new leaf and de-bag life altogether. Loose leaf tea can take a little longer to brew but the resulting taste is superior.
All seven of Yumchaa’s cafés across London also stock loose leaf, selling both in store brews and blends to take home. The packaging is made from craft paper and customers are encouraged to drop their empty bags back to the shop if their borough doesn’t recycle, so Yumchaa can recycle it for them.