We have known for years now, that tea bags are not fully biodegradable, as they contain plastics in the mesh part of the bag, and also in the glues used to hold them together. Many of the big brands of tea have since been working on making their teabags fully biodegradable, and are using this as a way of advertising their brands to the more eco-conscious consumer. One example that springs to mind is PG. There is now a big green banner across the box stating the bags are fully biodegradable. PG also state, that they are looking for plant based alternatives for the plastic wrapping that goes around your box of tea to keep it airtight. This is something that Teapigs have already achieved. By using a plastic like alternative made from wood pulp, called natureflex, which is apparently compostable, they can package their teabags in an airtight manner without plastic.
These are all big leaps forward for the tea industry, and it will hopefully set a good example for other food producers. However, if your favourite tea has not made the switch, what should you do?
The alternative to tea bags is to use loose leaf tea, having something to contain the tea leaves in stops you having a grainy brew. Personally I use a metal re-usable tea bag and fill it with a loose leaf tea. This is great because I can still make an individual cup of tea, and it also means that I can change up the tea I drink, herbal tea/flavoured tea etc, and still use the one teabag. There are also re-usable cotton teabags available, which have the same advantages, and are a bit cheaper, unfortunately though, they get stained by the tea quite easily so it doesn’t take long for them to look a bit old and worn.
Another alternative would be infuser teapots, which are teapots with a wire cage inside for you to put the loose leaf tea in, which is then removed prior to pouring so you don’t end up with any tealeaves in your cup. This is great for when you are having a proper cup of tea with friends, as by making a pot and letting it brew you don’t have to use as many tealeaves so prevent wastage. These teapots however, are more expensive, and I have had a few which have leaked, so you do really need to buy a good quality one. A much cheaper alternative would be to use an ordinary teapot and a tea strainer, but it appears that although you can easily buy a teapot, you need to go to more specialist shops to buy a tea strainer, they don’t sell them in the supermarkets.
With the rise of the eco-conscious consumer, loose leaf teas are now more widely available for you to fill your tea-bags and infuser pots with. Many places are also giving you the option of re-fills in your own container too; local refill shops, local tea-shops and even Whittard’s. The prices however, are not quite a match for the big brand bags, my local refill shop sells loose leaf teas between £3.50-£5 per 100g and at Whittards you will pay around £6 for 100g. 100g of loose leaf tea will make you quite a lot, this obviously depends on how strong you like your tea, but it still can’t compete with 160 teabags for £4 which some of the big brands offer, or 100 for £1 offered by supermarket brands.
All in all, there seem to be a lot of “green” alternatives now to having your favourite brew, making it much more accessible. It is great that tea companies are setting the example with the use of plant based and biodegradable materials, and I hope to see other food producers follow suit. For example, I don’t see why confectionary ,such as jelly sweets and chocolate, can’t also be wrapped in this natureflex material. I will be interested to see what food products are next to convert their packaging.