We’ve all become aware of the need to reduce our use of plastics and think carefully about how we dispose of them – and when we garden, being out with nature trying to get the best from our environment, we’re probably more aware of this than most.
When we’re gardening we try to reuse plastic pots and recycle packaging where we can and, of course, compost. Composting is one of life’s little pleasures. Garden and green kitchen waste can be thrown on a heap and, with very little input from us, rich brown soil-improving compost results and we’ve done the environment a good turn too.
But, with all the publicity surrounding the damage plastic pollution does to our environment, if you compost your teabags you’ll be concerned to hear that they might contain plastic.
Most tea bags use polypropylene to strengthen and seal the bags. In terms of composting, though the plastic isn’t biodegradable, it usually ‘disappears’ into the soil – and at worst you’re sometimes left with a white mesh after a year or so.
But not everyone is comfortable introducing any plastic into the environment and considering there are billions of teabags sold across the UK every year, that’s a lot of plastic.
Not all teabags contain polypropylene. More expensive brands such as Teapigs and Pukka Tea are plastic free. And some mainstream brands have started offering plastic-free versions. Twinings’ pyramid tea bags and ‘string and tag’ teabags from Clipper are polypropylene free and the Co-op launched a fully biodegradable paper tea bag in February.
And things have changed significantly over the past decade. A Which? Gardening investigation in 2010 found that just one small manufacturer was producing polypropylene-free tea bags and concluded that: ‘the full recyclability of tea bags is not high on many companies’ agendas’.
So we’re heading in the right direction, but what’s stopping all manufacturers from cutting out the plastic? The alternatives clearly exist.
Heath & Heather, whose tea bags also contain no plastic, explained how a polypropylene-free bag is made. They said: ‘[our] tea bags are natural, recyclable and compostable; made from soft woods, hard woods and long fibre such as Manila hemp. Instead of using a traditional ‘heat-sealing process’ like many everyday tea bags [our] tea bags are sealed by being folded and sewn with string.’
But until this catches on across the board, if you want to have an environmentally friendly cuppa without any microplastics you’d best look for a tea bag with a string and a tag – or better still treat yourself to some loose leaf tea.
And if you don’t want to change your brand of tea, Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) still recommends composting or popping them into your food recycling bin is still the best way to dispose of tea bags.
Did you know your tea bags might contain plastic? Will it stop you adding them to your compost? And how worried are you about adding plastic to the environment?