The plastic tea bag after composting
The loose tea brewed in a teapot or tea ball can be easily composted. Tea leaves are a good source of Nitrogen (Greens) organic material for the compost bin which will be moistened during the brewing process encouraging
decomposition. The tea ball or strainer can be emptied directly into the kitchen caddy while loose leaves can be scooped from the pot into the caddy by hand, once cool.
Teabags are usually listed as compostable items but in recent years more and more
composters have complained that the bags do not actually decompose when composted. In 2010 a report by Which? Gardening, found that six out of the seven largest tea bag manufacturers did not make fully compostable bags. This is because at the bags include
a non-biodegradable plastic (polypropylene) so that they can be more easily heat-sealed during manufacture. The bags may be described as “70% or 80%” compostable which includes the tea leaves and paper element of the bag but not the plastic.
Although each individual teabag is small they account for about 150 tonnes of polypropylene going to landfill, AD or composting a year in the UK alone. This is equivalent to about 165 million teabags a day. Many of these are composted in food waste.
The COOP announced in January 2018 that it was in the final stages of developing a plastic free biodegradable teabag for its own brand Fairtrade 99 teabags. The Coop which sells 367 million teabags a year hopes to have the new bags in their shops later
PLASTIC-FREE TEA BAGS
Some teabags are already plastic free making the bags ideal for composting. This is list was published in April 2018:
- Pukka Tea
- Jacksons of Piccadilly
- Twinings Pyramid
- PG Tips pyramid teabags
- Tetley’s catering range
- Aldi – their premium Specially Selected range is plastic-free
- Waitrose – their Duchy range is plastic-free and biodegradable.
- Update Clipper
teas From the 20th October 2018 Clipper moved all their production to the first plastic-free, unbleached and non-GM (genetically modified) tea bags. The new Clipper bags are made from plant-based materials (a blend of abaca,
a species of banana; plant cellulose fibres; and PLA.) Although the bags use PLA it is guaranteed to be from a non-GM source.
Mike Armitage a gardener from Wrexham started a petition to get manufacturers to remove all
plastic from tea bags after finding residue from teabags in his garden compost. Details of the 38 Degrees petition can be found at (https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions). The petition succeeded in persuading
the UK's largest tea bag manufacturer Unilever/PG Tips to announce that they will remove plastics from their teabags.
But the other leading UK teabag manufacturers are still using plastics in their teabags, although the following are expected
to become plastic-free duringor by the end of 2018
- PG Tips standard teabags PG Tips announced in February that they will be introducing fully biodegradable tea bags, with the first ones already on the shelves in some supermarkets.
The Unilever-owned company said it is working to make all of its tea bags biodegradable by the end of the year.
- Tetley teabags (Tetley string & tag teabags which are used mostly in their catering range of individually wrapped tea bags are
- Co-Op 99 teabags
- Yorkshire tea plan to replaced the plastic used in their bags with a renewable plant-based material. The aim being that all of their UK tea bags will have
switched by the end of 2019.
Compostable teabags made of a corn starch (SOILON) are sold by the Brew Tea Company and Teapigs. These will hot compost in about 6-8 weeks around 12 months in a cold composting system. The corn starch might
be from GM plants so there will be a need to compare the risks to the environment from the GM seeds from which the corn was grown with that from microplastics which is killing ocean life now as well as cropping up in soil and fresh water.
Tea teabags are sewn by machine with cotton thread, not heat sealed, and do not contain plastic. The teabag paper is made of a blend of natural abaca (a type of banana) and plant cellulose fibres.
Fruit, herbal and green tea ranges may already
use a compostable tea bag material which can be put straight in the compost bin.
Composting Tea bags containg plastic
Before the current concerns about plastic in teabags the advice when home composting was to use
loose leaf tea or if using teabags that did not decomposing during the composting process i.e. non-compostable bags:
- tear open the bags before putting them in the bin
- or sieve or pick them out after composting.
seen advice recently suggesting that to avoid the risk of the plastic entering the home compost bin, and eventually the soil, the bag should be emptied by cutting the top off the bag and tipping the tea residue into the kitchen caddy allowing it to be treated
as loose tea. Unfortunately, if the empty bag is put into the household (landfill) rubbish bin the plastic will still enter the soil.
Composting Plastic Free Tea bags
The new plastic-free tea bag paper is biodegradable
and compostable to industrial standards. The used tea bags can be put in the is into the food waste container provided by your local council where such a scheme is operated.
Home Composting. The new tea bags are biodegradable and will break
down over time, when cold composted and the bags may need returning to be bin to allow composting to be completed. There should not be a problem when hot composting.