Lifestyle,  Recipes

Can we talk about teabags?

There’s been a lot of talk about teabags recently, hasn’t there? The good, the bad and the ugly.

We drink 100 million cups of tea a day in the UK. That’s 60.2 billion cups of tea a year with 96% brewed using tea bags (UK Tea and Infusions Association). Tetley revealed in it’s 2018 Tea Report that 1 in 5 consumers are drinking more tea than they did a year ago.

Tea solves everything right? or at the very least a hot brew helps us get through the everyday stuff. So here’s the bad news – most of the tea we drink might taste good, but it’s bad for our environment and there’s some ugly truths we need to face up to.

Instead of just popping my usual Twinning Ceylon teabag into the pot, I find myself treating the said teabag with a new suspicion. Polypropylene sounds like something we shouldn’t have to deal with, and yet we’ve just been told that it’s used to hold most of our teabags together. Plastic in our teabags. Whatever next.

If we’ve learnt anything about the recent plastic campaign – it’s that plastic gets everywhere, and into everything. And just when we think we’ve heard it all, we’re told there’s plastic in 96% of our precious teabags. The ones we’ve been putting in the compost for years thinking they are fully biodegradable. Did you see Hugh’s War on Waste? (GO watch it right now) I was keen to watch this much anticipated episode, but naively thought it wouldn’t apply to us. We drink Twinings Ceylon for our everyday cuppa, mixed in with Betty’s Tea for a treat (made by Yorkshire Tea). But alas, both brands are on the naughty step.

After 3 days skipping round the Yorkshire Dales, merrily drinking all the tea and scoffing all the scones, I am mortified to think of the plastic trail we’ve left behind us. Shame on us.

So I’ve made myself a cuppa. Betty’s Tearoom Blend, if you’re wondering. A little holiday gift to ourselves in a very pretty tea caddy. And I’m doing a bit of old fashioned research. There’s lots of blog chatter out there about teabags, but I thought I’d just draw the strands together to give you the facts and give you some hope. We all need hope. And tea.

What’s the problem with teabags?

The summary is this. There are 2 tea bag problems we need to know about

  1. First up – paper tea bags – the everyday ones – sealed around the edge with a polypropylene plastic glue that makes them non-recyclable and non-compostable
  2. Plastic tea bags – the fancy ones – where the actual bag is made out of plastic, not paper, and begin to breakdown when put into hot water

The Obvious Solution

There is a blindingly obvious solution. So obvious that it’s hardly been mentioned. We could just revert to tea as it was intended – loose leaf. Tea bags were created as a convenience. Like many other foods are packaged for convenience. We could just add tea to the list of foods that we try to buy plastic- packaging free in our trolley.

If you’re a pot-maker this will be an easy switch. Although there is a question over how to dispose of the used leaves. The advice seems to be towards tipping into the food waste or compost bin rather than down the sink.

Mug makers read on.

The Good List

You might want to do your own research as the goal posts are constantly changing but as of September 2020, the good list looks like this

Clipper – On 20 October 2018, Clipper switched all of its tea bags to plastic-free, non-GM, unbleached tea bags made from plant-based materials

Teapigs – The first tea brand to have been awarded the Plastic Free Trust Mark which certifies that they are plastic free. They are made from corn starch, and the packaging uses fully compostable Natureflex.

Brew Tea Co – Manchester-based Brew Tea Company’s tea bags are 100% biodegradeable and are made from sustainable soilon. You can order individual packs of tea from their website.

Good and Proper Tea – This London based tea brand are 100% plastic free and composible. Tea bag boxes and inserts are recyclable and fully compostable.

NEMI teas – use plastic-free tea bags made from soilon, which is fully biodegradable. The labels and string are attached using ultrasound instead of glue, and the tea comes in biodegradable Natureflex packaging.

Roqberry Tea – London based brand made from biodegreadable soilon

We are Tea – These guys are well ahead of the game and have been plastic free for over 5 years now. They use biodegradable soilon and seal their teabags using ultrasound instead of glue. Take notes everyone!

Eteaket – This Scottish brand deserves a mention here too. I discovered them on a trip to Edinburgh last year and they’re practically perfect in every way.

The Big 4 List

Twinings – A work in progress. They’re the biggest selling brand in the UK with £107m annual sales. Their pyramid teabags are claimed to be plastic free, but all their other products are a work in progress

PG Tips – switched to fully plant based production in January 2020. Hooray for them.

Yorkshire Tea – produces it’s own brand range as well as Taylors of Harrogate and Betty’s Tea taking £97.6m annual sales. They’re testing new materials and promised to have it sorted by January 2021.

Tetley – Tetley have been making the nation’s tea since 1837 and is the 4th l largest teabag seller in the UK, but seem to be the slowest to react. They’ve promised change but with no dates attached.

My conclusion

How do I feel? Conflicted. Disappointed. Upset, even. Tea is in our DNA. Tea is the British way. It’s how we celebrate and commiserate. Tea is what we do when we don’t know what else to do.

The whole thing is quite personal and I feel a little bit betrayed by the big brands who should know better. Who should have acted sooner. Who should not have hidden this from us.

So now the cat’s out of the bag, they’ve got nowhere to hide.

  1. I will be watching Yorkshire Tea like a hawk. They’ve promised to fix this in a few months and they must live by their word. As one of the big 4 they have a responsibility to get this right. Betty’s tea is my favourite and would like to continue enjoying it please.
  2. I will be trying out a few new brands – I’ve been impressed with some of their websites and hope that quality and flavour match up to their sustainability claims.
  3. I will be having a go with loose leaf tea. I’ve tried it before and found it comes through quite strong but maybe I’m making it wrong, or buying the wrong tea. Loose leaf seems like a great solution as it cuts out the individual packaging.

How are you feeling about the whole tea situation? I feel like the nation is in collective shock. Especially the nation of Yorkshire. Hopefully the brand will be equally shocked – into action. We’ll see shall we?

There is something I think we can all agree on – Betty’s have the prettiest tea caddy you could ever dream of. It’s the perfect colour to brighten up your kitchen cupboard.

That’s all for now. Just off to make another cuppa!

Judith xx

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