Is there plastic in your tea bags

Is There Plastic In Your Tea?

This post contains affiliate links

Is there anything better than a nice cup of tea?  Even the very word itself is soothing and comforting – like a hug when you need one most.  A steaming hot mug of tea is the first thing I reach for in the morning, and quite often a herbal tea is one of the things I reach for last thing at night.  I measure my days based on my tea consumption – a good day if I’ve had plenty cups, and a bad day if tea has been in scarce supply.  In short, there are few things I love more than tea.

What is your beloved cup of tea is hiding a dark secret?  Well, I’m afraid to be the harbinger of doom, but much like the animal fat in £5 notes scandal, there is a bad side to your benign cup of tea, and that is plastic.  Not just the plastic wrapper on the box, or the plastic pouch some teas come in, but plastic actually in the teabag itself.

Let that sink in a moment – there is plastic in the teabag.

You might be wondering why there is a need for plastic to be found in teabags?  Well, plastic (polypropylene to be exact) is apparently added to the paper teabag to help heat seal them during manufacture so they don’t come open in the box, or in your cup.  It also means though that these tea bags aren’t 100% biodegradable, which is a bit of problem.

As a lot of the information stems from 2010, I wanted to get an up-to-date overview of the tea industry in 2017.   I donned my investigative cap and emailed a few tea makers to see if they could confirm whether they still use polypropylene in their teabags and to see which tea bags are plastic free.  Here’s what they said:

plastic in tea bags

Teapigs got back to me first (within minutes) to let me know that all of their teabags are made from a by-product of corn starch known as Soilon.  The box that they are sold in does appear to contain some plastic though, so if that is an issue then this may not be your solution.

Taylors of Harrogate (who also make Yorkshire Tea and Betty’s Tea) say that “we can confirm that we are working with our supplier of teabag paper to develop a paper that is 100% plant-based, but right now our tea bags do contain polypropylene as part of the fibres“.

Twinings have several different types of teabags available on the market.  They say that “our standard teabags, used for Earl Grey and English Breakfast, to name a couple, and many of our infusions and Green teas are produced from a natural plant based cellulose material and contain no plastic in the fibres. However, these teabags are “heat sealed” tea bags, and so the paper also has a very thin film of polypropylene, a plastic, which enables the two layers of the tea bags to be sealed together“.

Meanwhile their ‘string and tag with sachet’ tea bags, also contain a thin layer of plastic polyethylene to help seal up the sachets.  The only Twinings product that doesn’t contain any plastic is their pyramid teabag range – whereby the material is derived from maize starch and is fully biodegradable and compostable.  Rather annoyingly though, many of their pyramid tea bags seem to come in plastic bags rather than boxes.

Pukka Tea told me their teabags do not contain polypropylene or any other plastic – their teabag is sewn shut by machine with cotton thread.  They even went on to say their teabag paper is made of a blend of natural abaca (a type of banana) and plant cellulose fibres, and their supply of tea bag paper is also Totally Chlorine Free and unbleached.  They are staple-free and 100% biodegradable and/or recyclable. The tea bag strings are made from 100% organic, non-GMO, un-bleached cotton.  Each teabag is individually packaged though (possibly in plastic), so the one downside is that there is a bit of waste from one box of tea .

PG Tips say their “teabags are made with 80% paper fibre which is fully compostable along with the tea leaves contained in the bag.  The remaining packaging includes a small amount of plastic which is not fully biodegradable: this is needed to create a seal to keep the tea leaves inside the bag“.  However, they didn’t have the information to state whether or not this was polypropylene.

Tetley also say their round and square teabags are made with 80% paper fibre, and 20% thermoplastic.  Their string & tag teabags are plastic free- but are used mostly in their catering range for individually wrapped tea bags.  They have said that “Tata Global Beverages has ongoing continuous improvement and environmental awareness.  We are working towards more sustainable and biodegradable solutions for all our products”.  They also advised that ripping ripping the bag and dispersing the contents should help the composting process.

Typhoo, and Clipper have so far declined to comment.  I’ll update as and when they do.

So whilst Teapigs, Pukka Tea, Twinings Pyramid tea bags and Tetley’s catering range are plastic free, in pretty much all cases the packaging is not.  The teas are also on the more expensive side.  I find these types of tea are nice for a treat, but may be a little pricey to enjoy as your everyday cup of tea.  Especially if you have a prolific tea habit.

If you are keen to enjoy your tea without the added plastic the other option is to switch to loose leaf tea.  I’ve been hunting down some handy accessories that might come in handy if you choose to do so:

Plastic Free Tea Alternatives

Reusable Tea Bags (£7.98 for 5) (or make your own)

Tea Ball Infuser (£3.25)

A pretty fairtrade mug (£9.95)

A cheery teapot (£24.95) with infuser basket so no need for additional tools or tea leaves floating in your tea.

What’s your favourite loose leaf tea?  Is there a 100% plastic free loose leaf tea?  I’ve found some sold in a paper bag but it does have a sticky label on it which I suspect isn’t plastic free.  I’d be keen to hear your finds!

 

29 comments

  1. Interesting… I use Pukka a lot, and always buy Clipper for normal tea (because they do organic) and rooibos. Will be checking back to see what they say!

    Reply
    • They have replied to me on Twitter and said that “Currently, the filter paper in our pillow tea bags does contain polypropylene to provide the heat-seal function. Most standard square or round tea bags in the UK contain the same. We hope this helps!”.

      Reply
  2. Great article. I’ve switched to loose tea and would be interested to hear any recommendations for places that sell in bulk (where you bring your own container) – particularly in East London!

    Reply
  3. I drink Dorset tea and asked them the same question a couple of months ago and they sent me the following reply-
    “Thank you for your email and your interest in Dorset Tea. Below is a response prepared by our Quality department regarding the material used for our teabags:

    “The standard heat-sealable paper comprises of approximately 75% cellulose fibres, 25% synthetic fibres for the heat-sealing properties and 1% wet-strength resin. The cellulose fibres used in the manufacture of the teabag paper are a blend of unbleached non-wood fibre e.g. abaca (i.e. which is part of the banana family) and wood pulp. The wet-strength resin which, as the name implies, is in the composition to ensure the teabags retain their integrity in boiling water – the use of which is permitted in food contact regulations. If you include the tea inside the tea bag, 99% of the teabag is compostable.”

    Once composted, the remaining plastic/fibres can then be dispersed in the soil or can be picked out and disposed of.

    I hope this information has been helpful.

    Happy tea drinking”

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing that Debbie – that’s good of them to give you such a detailed response! I must admit I haven’t heard of Dorset tea before but I must look them up.

      Reply
  4. Oh my goodness I had no idea! Thank you so much for this post and the information you have gathered. This is definitely the shove I need to go back to loose leaf tea :)

    Reply
  5. Thank you so much for this and it is grear to come across Moral Fibres. This explains why tea bags hang around in my garden long after composting. I will switch to loose leaf tea. Plastic packaging is also very difficult to avoid so I appreciate you adding this to the assessment.

    Reply
  6. Such an interesting and informative article. I have always bourght Clipper teas because they are organic and fairtrade. Because they sound so ethical it’s all the more shocking to discover that they use plastics in the actual teabag. I have sent them an e-mail today asking what they intend to do about this and await a reply from them but it’s not a bad idea for each and every one of us to lobby the tea manufactures and hopefully get them to realise that we won’t as the spending public tolerate this.

    Reply
    • I emailed Clipper today following the program on tv “Inside the factory” covering how tea bags are made. I was totally unaware that the majority of the bags are made with 25% plastic and soo obviously not compostable! I shall be interested to see what they say but no doubt, going by other comments, that their bags will have an element of plastic. I have now moved to loose tea, just like my mother used to use and have to say it tastes so much better!

      Reply
  7. Wow, I had no idea. Thank you for sharing. This makes me wonder if the tea I drink (Choice Tea) has plastic in it as well, kind of a scary thought.

    Reply
  8. Just to update i have had a reply from Clipper teas and this is what they said:[ Ticket: 110885 ] Query
    CH
    Clipper Help
    Reply|
    Today, 08:22
    You
    Dear Jo

    Thank you for contacting us here at Clipper.

    With regards to your concerns about there being plastic within tea bags we can confirm that certain types of tea bags do contain polymer fibres. Standard square or round tea bags which are the most common in the UK market will all contain a type of polymer fibre as they are made using heat-sealable filter paper. The tea bag filter paper requires a means of sealing the two layers of paper together as paper will not stick to paper and glue is not used. The filter paper Clipper uses for this type of tea bag contains polypropylene to provide the heat-seal function. The filter paper is food grade for its intended purpose and meets all relevant UK and EU Regulations.

    The filter paper used to produce tea bags with the string and tag attached does not need to be heat-sealable, as it is closed differently, and therefore does not contain any polymer fibres/plastic content.

    In terms of Clipper packaging in general we can confirm that we do not use PLA material (the biodegradable material used for some pyramid bags and other plastic packaging) as it is derived from corn which may be from GM sources.

    In our opinion the tea bag paper we use is suitable for home composting. Square “pillow” bags do have a very thin layer of polypropylene plastic to enable the bags to be sealed, but in your compost bin this will break down into teeny tiny pieces.

    I hope this information helps with your enquiry.

    Best regards

    Hayley Butler
    Consumer Care

    Reply
    • I note your reply Hayley Butler but regarding your last comment relating to how your bags containing polymer will compost and break down into “teeny tiny pieces”. That is the whole problem with “tiny pieces of plastic”! They become “micro plastics” which still end up in the environment causing untold problems! “Throw away plastics” which end up in the environment need to be eradicated!

      Reply
  9. Hi Wendy, Thank you so much for this. Thankfully I’m using Pukka at the moment & I’ve just purchased loose-leaf rose; hibiscus & marigold from Healthy Supplies. I regularly use Clipper & I won’t be using them again. Even though some of their products are allegedly ‘safe;’ they’ve lost my trust. I can’t believe a producer of organic tea thinks this is acceptable. We need eyes in the back of our head – The food industry has a lot to answer for.

    Do you mind if I post your article on Facebook?

    Blessings, Mandy. 😇❤️

    Reply
  10. Do you know if there is a Fair Trade brand of tea which does not use plastic? I only became aware of this when watching BBC programme about tea leaf factory. I buy Waitrose Fair Trade tea but think will buy infusion tea pot and tea leaves but not sure if able to buy Fair Trad loose leaf, will start looking today.

    Reply
    • Waitrose dobFiartrade loose leaf breakfast tea. I have bought and infused to fit in my teapot so will see how it goes.

      Reply
    • Waitrose do Fartrade loose leaf breakfast tea. I have bought and infused to fit in my teapot so will see how it goes.

      Reply
  11. Thanks for highlighting this issue. I’m always trying to reduce single use plastics. I will switch to loose leaf tea and pukka for special teas. Do you know of a loose leaf tea that comes in packaging without the cellophane box cover or plasticised outer bags?

    Reply
  12. Hi David, yes I have just emailed Tesco about plastics in tea bags and the Customer services manager has replied that all Tesco tea bags contain 25% polypropylene. Nothing for it but to switch to loose leaf just like my grannie made tea.

    Reply
  13. Great review, thank you for sharing – I just embarked on a similar exercise writing to the manufacturers after finding out via friends about the TV exposee of this shocker! The replies were up to 30% PP for the heat seal and as you say, other ‘posher’ ones proud of their credentials spoil it with a plastic liner in the box. I feel a campaign coming on, the ‘teeny tiny pieces’ response that is now on Clipper’s web site really riled me, with the focus on microplastics these days, either manufacturers have no idea or they think people aren’t as clued up as we are.

    We just ran a sustainable event using corn based plastic alternative containers to improve compostability of the food waste, who knew this would render tea bags themselves the most plastic rich ingredient?! Is there any news on whether PLA or other plant based plastic substitute has been considered in tea bags? If it works to line hot drink cups it must have similar properties?

    Watch this space, happy to share any action I embark on to change this tiny but oh so important piece of my tea enriched world!

    Reply
    • Just found my answer on 2 different manufacturer web sites – there is no excuse, it is apparently totally suitable for tea bags, individual sachets, lined boxes and the plastic outer wrappers! Let the campaigning commence…

      Reply
  14. Do cafe direct tea bags contain plastic?
    I know they have removed the foil freshness bags inside to make fully compostable packaging. They also state the bags are compostable but not sure if they are plastic free

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *