My last post about teabags generated so many emails and quite a bit of comment that I thought it worth following up…

The general theme was supportive (phew!) but a large number of people told me they had already switched to plastic free teabags.

The depressing news is that there is no such thing. Unfortunately for us and for the kind of clarity which is in such short supply these days, it’s perfectly legal for companies to use the phrase “plastic free” because this, in food labelling terms, is understood to mean plastics made from petroleum and you’d be forgiven for thinking this meant all plastics. It doesn’t. It’s verbal obfuscation. (If you’re new to the blog, PLA and bioplastics are fully explained in my last post so I won’t bang on about it again.)

The kind of packaging that makes you think it’s free of ALL plastic …

My friend Liza in particular told me she was drinking tea made by a local company which was most definitely labelled as being “plastic free”. Ho hum, I thought.

So I wrote to them. Here is our correspondence.

ME Hi. I’m looking for a plastic free teabag and yours sounds just the thing. Can you tell me what material you use to heat seal the teabags?

THEM: Hi, thanks for contacting us. Our tea bags are made from corn starch and when they are heat sealed together it is the starch/glucose bonding together. The tea bag itself has no taste or aroma and does not affect the great flavours of our teas. Our time out tea bags are packed with high quality unground ingredients, packed into a clear bag made from eucalyptus and both are biodegradable/compostable. Our tea boxes are printed with vegetable ink on a mixture of recycled and FSC card.
We even use a brown paper parcel tape which uses a potato starch glue.We hope this answers your question and would love for you to try our lovely teas. 

ME: Thanks very much for your reply, it was kind of you to go into so much detail.  I am just concerned about one thing – by corn starch, I understand that this is the base material used to make bioplastic, or PLA.  Is this correct?  And my research seems to point to the fact that whilst bioplastic is fully biodegradable, it is not actually compostable.  So if you live in an area which doesn’t collect food and garden waste, it has to go into the general rubbish, because it won’t properly degrade in the compost heap (if you’re lucky enough to have one!).  I found this on the Yogi Tea website.    “Our envelopes are also made of FSC®️-certified paper, but unfortunately we have to use small quantities of plastic “for heat sealing”. This is very painful for us, but for reasons of quality and hygiene and the current state of technology and research, there is no other option. Even if other tea competitors may claim the opposite, we feel openness and transparency towards our customers. A 100% plastic-free, heat-sealed tea bag outer packaging is currently not available on the market.”  Can you clarify?  I’m just looking for a teabag that contains no plastic at all – petroleum based or bio!  I do realise that companies like you are fallling over backwards to try and minimise plastic pollution, but if I can’t find a completely plastic free teabag, I shall move entirely to leaf tea.  

THEM: “Hi, no problem getting back to us, we always like chatting tea and we have worked so hard at removing all plastics from our tea ranges. You are correct that corn starch is also known as PLA but it contains cero (sic) plastic and no petroleum. It does prefer to go into an industrial compost i.e. council collection and unfortunately in this county we are still waiting for this to happen, but we compost at home ourselves and if we find a bag not fully composted when we turn out our compost for use, we just pop it back in and wait for the next year. If it does go into landfill at least there is no plastic to leach out into the ground and landfills don’t bury the products immediately, which means the tea bag has a slight chance to start breaking down with the microbes found on site. There is also a chance that the general waste will go to an incinerator, which makes energy, and these teabags won’t have any plastic released into the atmosphere. If you are still not convinced with corn starch tea bags, we have a large selection of loose teas available, all packed in natureflex, which is 100% plastic free material made from fast growing  Eucalyptus trees and they seal without any plastic and are 100% home compostable.”

No names, no pack drill

Look, they’re obviously a really nice company trying very hard to minimise their impact so I’m not going to name them. But all the same it’s disingenuous to claim that their packaging is ‘plastic free’, so I won’t be buying any of their tea any time soon. Meanwhile, hats off to Yogi teas for their honesty.

And it’s still leaf tea for me, because I keep finding shredded teabags in my compost from at least three years ago that have failed to decompose…

Photo by an_vision on Unsplash

In other exciting news…

Yours truly was approached earlier this year by London South Bank University. Would I be willing to give a keynote speech at one of their series of Sustainability and Climate Action Events?

Well, dear readers, I was speechless. Which is not a useful state to be in when asked to actually open your gob and say something half intelligent.

However, when I’d picked myself up off the floor and apologised to the dog (she gets a fright when I fall over), I said yes. So I shall be opening the three day event on 4th November at 9.30 am – put it in your diaries and tune in. It is of course virtual like everything else during these covidious times but that does make it a lot more accessible for everyone. Here’s the link – it’s free to register and attend.

And I have to admit that I’m very excited as well as nervous – actually, I find it difficult to think of much else as the date draws near. Eek!

And last but SO not least…

The beloved friends, Piper and Barney, love harvest time as it means the occasional fat juicy rat to chase out of the grain barn.

Mystery credit

For those of you who read this blog online, I would like to thank Ian Wagg on Unsplash for the lovely picture of teapickers in a tea plantation. For those of you who read this in email form, you won’t have a dickybird what I’m talking about as the header photos are not published on the email versions. No idea why.

29 thoughts on “MORE ON TEA BAGS!!!

  1. Hello Dillie,
    Your previous post inspired me to.purchase a teapot and loose leaf tea.
    I am quite addicted to tea and wow, I had forgotten how much nicer it is without the plastic and bleach.

    Thank you

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  2. Hi Dillie. We bought one of the brown teapots you recommended to add to our teapot collection. It’s very good. An excellent pourer! And we don’t intend to buy teabags ever again.
    Once more thank you for your blog.


    • Oh that’s so nice! Very encouraging. I’m very fond of my Chatsford I have to say. It’s seen me through thick and thin. I wish you many happy years of excellent cups of tea.


  3. This blog has changed my life! I have now happily returned to leaf tea – my Grandma would be so pleased because she hated the new-fangled teabags. I bought 1 kilo of Flowery Orange Pekoe (because its 25%off if you buy a kilo from Pumphreys). The tea is wonderful, with no stain in the cup and no aftertaste! Happy days and Thank You!


  4. Well I have to shamefully confess that I had never considered the humble teabag beyond whether I have enough of them in the house to get me through the week (and that’s a LOT of teabags) I own several teapots, I even own a tea strainer – I shall definitely give the loose leaf tea a go when the current supplies have been drunk.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I too have gone all loose on the tea front. Hooked. Acquired those little sieve ball hairnet type things. I reckon I’m going to become like those ex-smokers, tutting loudly accompanied by pursed lips at the sight of a tea bag being lit. Thanks for all the stuff on this blog its brilliant


    • Thanks so much Gordon, sometimes I feel I’m whistling in the wind and then an encouraging email comes along – like yours – and I’m back and ready for the fray! Stay well, and stay tutting!


  6. Hi Dillie

    Hope you are doing ok.  So this from PG Tips is technically true but also technically not true?? Sounds like the corn starch greenwash again?

    Kate (I tag along with Matthew Bannister)


    From: Shit You Don’t Need Reply to: Shit You Don’t Need Date: Tuesday, 22 September 2020 at 16:30 To: Subject: [New post] MORE ON TEA BAGS!!!

    Dillie Keane posted: ” My last post about teabags generated so many emails and quite a bit of comment that I thought it worth following up… The general theme was supportive (phew!) but a large number of people told me they had already switched to plastic free teabags. “


    • Hello Tagalong Woman Drowning…!!!! Lovely to hear from you, Kate. Yes, I’m afraid it’s the cornstarch greenwash again. It all sounds very eco, doesn’t it. And if you live in an area where you are 100% certain that your teabags are going to an industrial recycling unit, they’re ok… but they won’t biodegrade in your compost heap. Meanwhile, hope all well with you and that we meet again one day – so strange not seeing people. Love to both of you.


  7. Oooh hark at you! That’s great news that they’ve asked you to do said talk and I think you’ll do brilliantly as anyone who can do comedy can 1) always act brilliantly and 2) always communicate brilliantly (what is comedy if not the music-like ability to land a joke by knowing precisely what words and syllable counts etc do and don’t work? That skill transfers to general communication too). I shall be tuning in to watch it if I’m not lecturing myself that day.

    RE: “corn starch” and polylactide (PLA) – you are quite right that the former term is just a lie. It’s not just plasticised starch – it is starch fermented into lactic acid (the very useful skincare ingredient for dry skin, also found in yoghurt, gone-off milk and vaginal fluid) which is then polymerised. PLA can be degraded back to the free acid using heat and a weak acid so in time I’m sure some manner of kit for nuking teabags into something you can lob down the sink will come about – something you add to old bags (tea, not Ena Sharples) with boiling water and they fall to bits and dissolve – that process is going to be better than leaving them in landfill where they will persist a long time. Very hot industrial composting does destroy them – the heat is key – if your domestic heap gets hot (bonemeal and piddle sometimes work), they might vanish therein.

    BUT we can avoid ALL of that and just use fucking loose leaf – it’s more economical, there is much more variety AND it’s absolutely no less convenient unless you’re an arsehole who thinks 30s is an inconvenience.

    Keep up the superb work, Dillie! Long to have you back on stage and your YT uploads have kept me going in this stirring time. Thank you so, so much. Your nation needs FA at times like this. You are the salve for a dirty great carbuncle of a year.


  8. You can also do some pretty cool blending with loose tea. My grandmother had a 2 bin caddy with earl grey on one side and assam on the other with small wooden spoons. Wish I could remember the proportions she used but it was really exceptional tea. I have inherited the caddy and feel I should be experimenting making more use of it now. Have fun.


    • Indeed, I remember something similar with a friend’s mum. I’m not an earl grey fan at all, but as long as tea of whatever variety or mix isn’t artificially perfumed I’ll try it!


      • Brilliant workshop talk for Sustainability and Climate Action this morning – compelling and I’ll never buy loo paper to strangle a puppy or Northern Forest hardwood soft stuff again.. ‘Cheeky Panda’ is my go-to bamboo choice these days…

        Liked by 1 person

      • We ditched tea bags several years ago, and are addicted to a mixture of 2 teaspoons of Earl Grey to one teaspoon of breakfast tea. However, I can’t find anywhere to get supplies of loose tea that don’t come in thick plastic bags. A refill shop about 20 miles away sells loose tea, but it’s horribly expensive and the Earl Grey smells like a dodgy boudoir. Can anyone recommend a loose tea supplier not using single use plastic in their supply chain please? Affordable is even better. Thanks


      • Hi Dillie! Remember me? I’m the woman who bought you tea from Pumphreys in Newcastle! Pumphreys tea (which I buy a kilo of each time) is in in a brown paper bag. They deliver. Go on their website. How’s life for you? Hope it’s settling down to a better pace. XX Marion Dobson


      • OMG I am so glad you got in touch! I couldn’t remember how we had connected and I wanted to send you that DVD to say thank you. And because I’ve been too busy to blog it didn’t occur to me to look here. I see that packet of green tea every evening and it glares accusingly at me to say “You never sent even a thank you note, let alone a DVD!” So… Please send address again – not today, it’s manic here. Monday. The tea is lovely thank you so much!


  9. Australia here. I converted completely over to loose leaf years ago after having to pick hundreds of teabags out of my compost one year before I turned it into the garden. Instantly converted me.

    Liked by 1 person

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