Plastic, Teabags And Loose Leaf Tea

Plastic is a hot topic at present. And quite rightly so ! Oceans awash with plastic, images of sea creatures struggling for their lives and David Attenborough’s beautiful “The Blue Planet” series have made us all re-think.

But how does our over use of plastic affect our daily cuppa?  Besides the external packaging of plastic many of the tea bags produced by the big high street names contain non-biodegradable polypropylene. Yes, our humble tea bag is exacerbating the problem. Not all, but a lot of well known teabags are made of approximately 20% plastic whilst some are a hefty 25%. A quarter of a teabag may seem like a drop in the ocean but that drop is actually a tsunami! A staggering 165 million cups of tea are consumed per day of which 96% are brewed from teabags. That means 158 million teabags each day in Britain are being used and discarded. Some very conservative calculations put that at 150 tonnes  of polypropylene per annum. Whilst the rest of the tea bag will de-compose, micro plastics are left, like a fluffy residue, which go into the earth or could potentially leach into waterways and down to the already over-polluted seas.

So why do we need polypropylene in our  teabags? It is used to seal the bags and then enable the bag to hold its shape in hot water. There are 2 stories cited as to how tea bags came about. One is a Roberta Lawson and Mary McLaren submitted a patent for the ‘the tea leaf holder" in 1901 seeing an opening for the convenience of brewing tea in this way. However the most commonly held theory is the tea bag was inadvertently created by a New York tea merchant around 1908. He sent out samples in small silken bags, potential  customers thought they were for brewing in and the tea bag was born! 

The tea bag did not take off in Britain until the 1950’s when the post war boom of convenience and the return of the availability of manufacturing goods meant the teabag blossomed and has now become common place in every home, work place and super market.

To be fair many tea companies are now pledging to work towards a plastic free future. However, do we really need the pre-packed teabag?

Loose leaf tea yields a better brew and like for like is more economical. There is a myth that loose leaf tea is dearer but always look at the net weight on teabags or the labeling on the shelf per 100g and you may detect loose leaf is actually cheaper.

Using loose leaf enables you to control how much leaf you wish to use and if you do not wish to use or invest in a teapot and sieve there are many ways to do it yourself. There are biodegradable self – fill tea bags or cotton tea filters which are washable and re-usable over and over again. (One tip though-use the cotton filters for only one type of tea-if you have a broad tea drinking habit you may need a few. The cotton can taint). There are gadgets such as tea balls or tea eggs, metal containers to be filled with tea and then emptied after each enjoyable cup, or filters which neatly sit in a mug until your brew is ready and can be removed.

 Also  lets not forget aesthetics - some loose leaf teas are really beautiful and you can actually see what you are about to drink. How many people ever open a tea bag to see what actually is in there? The variety and choice of loose leaf teas are huge compared to tea bags and, of course, tea leaves are great for the garden and if you are unable to compost just bang the drained leaves into the bin. Is that really any messier than teabags?

Thinking about what tea bags we are consuming, or better still converting to loose leaf tea, may only seem like a tiny step on the plastic free road - but at least it is a step in the right direction.



Dorothy Stubley
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