It may come as surprise to some but tea bags contain a proportion of plastic. The plastic (polypropylene to be exact) is added to heat seal them during manufacture so they don’t come apart in the box, or in your cup.
It also means that tea bags aren’t completely biodegradable. We’ve noticed this ourselves in the official ECO Arcade compost heap but was confirmed in an investigation by Which Gardening – https://www.which.co.uk/news/2010/07/composting-teabags-218651/. Their members were complaining that they were seeing parts of the bag as a fine mesh in their compost.
These tea bags can still be composted but the plastic needs to be filtered out.
‘Our advice remains that teabags are suitable for composting. If the bags are still visible when you want to use the compost, they can be sieved out or picked off the surface of the soil. You can also speed up the composting process by ripping open the bags.’
Harriet Kopinska, home composting project co-ordinator at Garden Organic, said:
‘We would still tell people to put teabags in their compost, as composting is the better environmental option. But where possible tear the bags first. Even better, use loose leaf tea.’
What tea bag makers said
We contacted some of the major tea bags suppliers PG Tips, Tetley and Yorkshire Tea to ask about the plastic content of their tea bags:
Hello @tetleyuk what is the plastic content of your tea bags and can they be composted?
Here at Tetley, sustainable sourcing is very important to us. We continually seek to work with our suppliers to improve and explore the most sustainable production processes and methods. We’ve worked hard to ensure that our tea bags are 99% bio degradable.
However, as a result of the manufacturing process, Tetley tea bags do contain a very small amount of plastic to ensure the bags remain sealed for you to enjoy your cup of tea.
The material used to make the actual tea bag is a mixture of mainly cellulose fibres and a small amount of polypropylene fibres to give the heat seal. Under normal composting conditions the cellulose fibres will break down, as will the tea leaving the very small polypropylene fibres which are normally so small they are not seen. It does however take a reasonable amount of time to do this and really needs to be placed into a proper compost heap. Kind Regards, Tetley
Hello @YorkshireTea what is the plastic content of your tea bags and can they be composted?
Hello! It’s 25%, though Recycle Now does recommend composting them, and it’s what we do with ours: https://www.recyclenow.com/what-to-do-with/tea-bags-0 We’re developing an alternative to plastic, though.
Hi, you can read all about composting our teabags here: http://www.pgtips.co.uk/article/detail/290939/what-can-you-do Hope this helps
Here they recommend separating the contents of the fruit, herbal and green tea; adding the tea leaves to compost or waste collection but the bag should go into the unrecyclable waste. Their pyramid bags appear to be compostable with some of the issues described previously.
While some suppliers like We are tea produce plastic free tea bags, most do not. Wendy from Moral Fibres has confirmed this in her Blog posting http://moralfibres.co.uk/is-there-plastic-in-your-tea/
Loose-leaf tea the eco-friendly choice
We think the best eco-friendly solution is loose-leaf tea.
For that you’ll either need a tea pot and strainer like the old days or an infuser.
We have started stocking a stainless steel infuser that you can use for leaf tea. It can work in a small tea pot (check the size) or single cups. When tea has brewed discard the tea leaves to compost, your garden or household waste collection.
Then wash out your infuser to use again.
We think loose leaf tea makes a much nicer cuppa anyway and you no longer need to worry about whether to take your tea with or without plastic!
Buy our stainless steel infuser here: Stainless steel tea infuser
You can get loose leaf tea from most good supermarkets. Let’s hope that trend grows.