It’s quite clear to anyone that knows us, and to those who’ve read our ‘Plastic Free Coffee‘ blog post, that we love our coffee! However, we do like to start and end the day with a cup of tea, so it’s important to us that we use a plastic free option. There are so many tea brands out there, that finding one that you like can be challenging, let alone the flavours that you prefer! And, with our parents being quite fussy with their tea, we also had this challenge.
After researching different teas, we found that unless it’s written specifically on the packaging, there are usually traces of plastic in the bags themselves. In the cases that that there are no plastic in the bags, the packaging may pose an issue. Even if they’re in boxes, in some cases there is a thin plastic wrap around it. However, it’s not all bad!
One brand we came across, is Teapigs™.
HOLD ON – WHY IS THERE EVEN PLASTIC IN TEA BAGS?
Many of you may do what we have always done – compost your tea bags once you’ve finished with them, as we always thought that they were just made from plant fibres. Whilst this is true, it’s not the whole story (of course!). A shocking 96% of all the tea bags sold within the UK, contain plastic. This is polypropylene that has been used to seal the bags. But just the seal, surely that isn’t too bad right? Well we now know that even the smallest amount of plastic is bad, and when you consider the 60.2 billion cups of tea a year drunk in the UK alone, it soon adds up to a much larger amount!
There are multiple impacts to this, both environmentally and health wise. A study was done by Canadian researchers and then published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Environmental Science and Technology. It reports that steeping a single plastic teabag at brewing temperature (95 °C) releases around 11.6 billion microscopic plastic particles know as ‘microplastics’ and 3.1 billion ‘nanoplastics’ into each cup of tea (Brewing temperature is 95 °C, however most kettles boil hotter at 100 °C).
In some cases, the plastic can make up a staggering 25% of the tea bag, which considering their average size, is actually quite a lot – and it’s not biodegradable! Before we have even thrown away the tea bag, we have already released billions of plastic particles- the very particles that are found after plastic degrades in the oceans and are then eaten by marine animals. That very plastic shows up again in our food, through fish that are eaten – coming full circle. So tea bags aren’t just plant fibres and paper; yet another myth we as consumers have been sold.
SO WHY HAVE WE CHOSEN TEAPIGS™?
Well, we are constantly on the lookout for the best plastic free products, and are currently sticking with Teapigs™. There are a variety of reasons, one being that we want to support companies who are working on new initiatives and alternative materials.
In addition, they are built on ethical values. They are members of The Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) – a non-profit organisation that works to ensure environmental sustainability, whilst working to improve the lives of tea workers and farmers. The Point Foundation is another to add; another non-profit organisation that aims to support orphans and vulnerable young people in the areas of South Africa and Rwanda. As most of the tea for the ‘everyday brew’ blend comes from Gisenyi, Rwanda, they make a donation with every pack ‘everyday brew’ sold. Through this, and matching donations that consumers make, over £300,000 has been raised (as of Dec. 2019).
Then there’s their packaging. They are completely transparent with their packaging, and we love that! We love to know exactly what we are buying, and thus the impacts the materials have. Fortunately, there are no ‘bad’ materials used to create Teapigs™!
There are so many more options for flavoured tea lovers as well!
WHAT IS THEIR PACKAGING MADE FROM?
Depending on the type of tea that you buy, there are a few different packaging types.
‘Tea Temples‘ contain the most packaging and materials. The bags themselves, the string, label, ink, ‘plastic’ inner bag and the outer box. These show just how far research is going, and that there are alternatives ready to be used, and they are! The ‘tea temples’ and the string attaching them to the labels are made from cornstarch, a natural substance that is fully compostable. Cornstarch is common in the use of compostable plastics, and breaks up into natural materials that is then used as fertilisers for the soil and food for micro-organisms. However, there are two ways to compost- home and industrial. These bags need to be composted on an industrial scale, as they need high temperatures, and the right level of pressure and micro-organisms. So, they need to be put into food waste, to ensure that they reach suitable conditions (and then it only takes 12 weeks). Where in normal tea bags you would find the plastic ‘glue’, these are sealed with heat, eliminating the need for any sort of glue. The labels are just made from paper, which as we know is compostable. There is also no need to worry about chemicals leaking into ecosystems, as the ink used on the labels is vegetable-based. The bag that the temples are in, is made from Natureflex. This material looks like a plastic bag, however it’s made by ‘converting renewable wood pulp into airtight packaging.’ This means that yet another element of their packaging is compostable, and this one can go in your home compost! The outer cartons are made from FSC certified paper, which means that the wood has come from forests that are big sustainably managed. The cartons can be put in your recycling, but can also be reused. And just like the labels, the ink used is vegetable based, so no nasty chemicals!
‘Tins of Tea‘ is just as it sounds – they’re made from tinplate and aluminium. What’s great about them? They’re both recyclable materials, that is if you can’t find anything to reuse them for! And what’s better? If you really can’t reuse them and decide to recycle, aluminium is one of the only two metals that are infinitely recyclable!
‘Loose Tea Pouches‘ unfortunately are not the best, but they are working on finding alternatives! They are currently made from paper and polyethylene. Even though these are both recyclable, in order for this to happen the materials need to be separated, as composite materials cannot be recycled as they are. Sadly, many councils are not able to carry out this process, so they will just be dumped into landfill. As they are good airtight pouches, we will be reusing ours – our local pet shop offers a zero waste style shopping experience, so we can use them to top up on dog treats!
‘Matcha Sachets‘ are much the same as the ‘Loose Tea Pouches’, as they too are currently made from composite materials. However they are currently not recyclable here in the UK. But again they are working on a solution! If you still want matcha but without the sachets, you can always purchase a tin instead!
‘Glass Storage Jars‘ are something that we are really loving. They are lightweight but durable, and with an air-tight wooden lid, they look lovely as well as being practical. The only part that is plastic, is the silicon on the lid which makes it air-tight. Even though we don’t like plastic, it’s not single use and will last a lifetime, so there’s no argument here!
SO WHAT DO THEY OFFER?
So much! They have such a variety of teas, and the form in which you purchase them – perfect for any tea lover. If you want to have a look at the full range, here’s the link! I want to have a look!
We are quite boring, and only really like unflavoured tea, so their ‘Everyday Brew’ is perfect. However, we do like a green tea every now and then, and their ‘Mao Feng Green Tea’ is lovely! Neither taste like a ‘regular’ tea that you would get from another brand, and we love them!
HOW ARE THEY PACKAGED?
We were very impressed when we received our package. There was a small amount of bubble wrap around the glass jars as expected, but the rest was a honey comb style wrap. Everything – box, wrap and tissue paper is recyclable. Even though the bubble wrap is not, it can be reused multiple times until the ‘bubbles’ pop!
We are always looking to find the best products and are currently pretty happy with Teapigs™! Even if the plastic free tea wasn’t good enough on its own (which it quite frankly should be!) seeing the causes they support and donate to, sells it for us!