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.)
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…
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. https://www.lsbu.ac.uk/whats-on/consumption-economics-education-wellbeing-event
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…
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.