As an avid tea drinker I'm surprised it has taken me this long to fully research and write a blog on this topic. But then again, who wants to learn that they may have been unknowingly ingesting billions of micro- and nano-plastics for years?
Yes, you heard that right:
Now, you may be thinking, but I don't buy or drink those teabags. You know the ones, the pyramid shaped plastic (often nylon) pillows that are sometimes marketed as 'luxury' tea. They are the most obvious perpetrators of microplastic pollution in the tea world, but unfortunately they are not the only. While most tea bags are made from natural fiber materials, whether it is unbleached paper or abaca pulp, many also contain polypropylene. This plastic, also known as PP or plastic compound #5, is generally utilized for two functions - sealing the bag and/or providing structure (called thermoplastic lining). While not ubiquitous across the industry, these invisible plastic glues are widespread and it is impossible to discern whether a tea bag is truly plastic free by sight alone.
Fortunately, greater public concern for the environmental and human health implications of microplastics in our morning beverages has led to changes being made across the industry. Many companies have released statements sharing that their tea bags are plastic free, while others are employing PLA (polylactic acid, a plant based 'plastic' polymer) compounds that are compostable at industrial composting facilities. Plastic in teabags, even if invisible to the naked eye, will not biodegrade and should NOT be put into either your backyard or an industrial composting system. If you are unsure as to whether or not there is plastic in your tea bag, it belongs in the trash. The list compiled below is based on information available at the end of 2022 and it seems promising that more manufacturers will be transitioning away from plastics in the years to come.
(although many are working towards becoming plastic free)
Bagged tea is a fast and convenient option, but this blog post would be remiss without mentioning the Towards Zero Waste gold standard of loose leaf tea. About 90% of the tea I enjoy is loose leaf; I find it's fuller in flavor, generates less waste, and is often cheaper than the bagged alternative. Win, win, win! From steeping an individual cup with a tea ball or strainer to brewing a larger amount using a tea pot or diffuser (my personal favorite method), there are many ways to prepare loose leaf. There are several locations locally to purchase loose leaf tea, including Cup and Kettle in downtown Leavenworth and Inner Grove Tea Company in Wenatchee. Sage Mountain Natural Foods, Wenatchee Natural Foods, and the Oregon based shop Mountain Rose Herbs are all great places to purchase teas and herbs to combine into your own loose leaf blends.
Thanks for reading! We'd love to hear from you in the comments below, especially if you have discovered other companies moving towards plastic free tea.
Plastic Teabags Release Billions of Microparticles and Nanoparticles into Tea. Laura M. Hernandez, Elvis Genbo Xu, Hans C. E. Larsson, Rui Tahara, Vimal B. Maisuria, and Nathalie Tufenkji. Environmental Science & Technology 2019 53 (21), 12300-12310DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b02540