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Food & Drink

Food & Drink, Kitchen Staples

The Teabags Without Plastic in 2022 & Those Containing Plastic

Want to know which teabags without plastic exist in the UK in 2022? Look no further – I’ve rounded up the best eco-friendly and sustainable plastic-free tea bags out there right now. I’ve also shared the teabags with plastic, to help you avoid unexpected plastic in your beverages.

Back in 2017, I wrote about the surprising hidden plastic in teabags. Teabags that many of us were composting in our gardens or via our kerbside food waste pickup. That post had such an impact as many people learned for the first time that teabags contain plastic, alongside a host of other surprising items that contain plastic.

Over the last couple of years, I had a lot of requests to update the article, so I updated this article in early 2021. Now that we’ve reached 2022, I wanted to see where the tea industry is currently at.

I’ve looked into over 20 teabag brands in the UK, to see what teabags without plastic are available. I’ve also looked into how best to dispose of the bags once you’re done.

Why do teabags contain plastic?

You might be wondering why there is a need for plastic to be found in teabags?  Well, plastic (polypropylene to be exact) is added to the paper teabag to help heat seal them during manufacture. 

Heat sealing the bags like this means that the teabags won’t come open in the box, or in your cup.  It also means that these tea bags aren’t 100% biodegradable.  This is a problem in that those tea bags you are composting are leaving bits of microplastic in the soil.

What Is Microplastic?

Microplastic is a huge problem, that is still being understood by scientists today. Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, less than 5 mm long. What we know is that microplastics are found in the soil, in the sea, in our drinking water, inside fish and other animals we eat, and even in humans. When microplastics are in the food we eat and the water we drink, this means we are ingesting plastic, and the long-term effects of this are currently unknown.

Microplastic comes from a variety of sources. It can derive from larger plastic debris that has degraded into smaller and smaller pieces. However, it also comes from teabags that have been heat-sealed with plastic, that we have unwittingly composted.

How much damage can a teabag do, you may be wondering? Well, one teabag alone will do very little damage. However, when you consider that in the UK alone we drink more than 60 billion cups of tea a year, then it’s a lot of teabags and a whole lot more microplastic.

The good news is that since 2017 tea manufacturers have started to remove polypropylene from their teabags. Here is the current situation in the UK:

The Plastic Free Teabags in 2022

teabags without plastic uk

Here are the UK brands that produce plastic-free tea bags. In each case, I’m discussing the bags only, not the packaging.

Before we dive in, let me get you up to speed on some of the terminologies around teabags.

First off, you’ll see some discussion around types of teabags. Here is a visual guide to the types of teabags referred to in this guide.

types of teabags

In this guide to teabags without plastic, you’ll see a lot of discussion around PLA. PLA stands for Polylactic Acid. PLA teabags are technically not plastic-free, as they are made from plant-based plastics. It is often referred to as a bio-plastic. This simply means the plastic does not come from a fossil fuel-based source.

There are some issues around PLA. Firstly, sometimes the plant material used to produce PLA can be sourced from genetically modified (GM) crops.

Secondly, PLA tea bags are not home compostable. It’s therefore important to dispose of them correctly. If your local council collects your food waste or garden waste bin for industrial composting, they will compost quickly. However, if your council does not collect your food waste, then these teabags perform no differently than conventional oil-based plastic tea bags.

I don’t think PLA is a perfect solution. Like many aspects of sustainability, there are always compromises. However, aside from switching to loose leaf tea en masse, I don’t think there is a perfect solution that could also make tea an affordable daily staple.

Right, now we’re up to speed on all things tea, let’s dive in:

Bird & Blend Tea

Place in your food waste bin | Loose leaf tea selection

Brighton-based Bird & Blend sells their hand-blended teas in PLA teabags. Or if you want to avoid PLA you can shop for loose leaf tea. Alongside their standard black teas, where Bird & Blend excel is in their unique tea blends. Think Rhubarb & Custard, or Chocolate Digestive flavoured tea for something a little different.

Brew Tea

Place in your food waste bin | Loose leaf tea selection

As well as their loose leaf tea selection, Brew Tea swapped over to PLA teabags in September 2017. They then started moving over to plastic-free packaging in 2018. Black tea is Brew Tea’s speciality, but they do carry a small range of fruit and herbal teas.

Clipper

Place in your food waste bin | String and tag teabags home compostable

Back in 2017 people were most shocked by the fact that Clipper’s unbleached organic teabags contained plastic. Thanks to consumer demand, Clipper took action, and switched their pillow teabags to a plant-based PLA over a year ago, sourced from non-GM plant material.  

Co-Op Own Brand 99

Place in your food waste bin

Thanks to consumer pressure, The Co-Op switched its own-brand Fairtrade 99 tea over to PLA teabags in 2018.

Eteaket

Place in your food waste bin | Loose leaf tea selection

Edinburgh-based Eteaket mainly sells loose-leaf tea. This is packaged in home compostable Natureflex™ bags and cardboard caddies. Their tea is not the cheapest. However, if you already have a caddy, then their loose-leaf tea is also available in 100% plastic-free refill bags, which are a little cheaper.

Whilst their range of teabags is small, their tea bags are made from PLA. These are packed into home compostable Natureflex™ bags, and recyclable cardboard cartons for a lighter carbon footprint.

Good & Proper

Place in your food waste bin | Loose leaf tea selection

Good & Proper’s range of award-winning teas – from their black teas to their range of herbal infusions – come in PLA teabags. If you want to avoid PLA, you can also shop for their wide range of tasty loose leaf teas.

Hampstead Tea

Home compostable or can go in your food waste bin | Loose leaf tea selection

Hampstead Tea has a long history of sustainability. They were the first tea manufacturer to introduce stitched teabags rather than heat-sealed teabags. As such, their teabags have always been home compostable. Rather than resting on their laurels, Hampstead Tea has taken big steps when it comes to the environment. Consequently, the vast majority of their products are plastic-free (aside from their Earl Grey and Green Tea with Jasmine tea bag envelopes).

Neal’s Yard

Home compostable or can go in your food waste bin

Neal’s Yard 100% organic and eco-friendly tea bags are FairWild™ certified. This is an international standard that supports the sustainable use of wild-harvested ingredients. It also ensures a fair deal all along the supply chain.

Their PLA-free teabags are made from natural abaca (a plant from the banana family) and are oxygen bleached. This method is chlorine-free and kind to the environment. As such these plastic-free teabags can go straight into your home composter.

Nemi

Place in your food waste bin | Loose leaf tea selection

Nemi is a specialist London-based tea company that offers a variety of tea blends, both as loose tea and teabags. As well as selling great-tasting tea, they provide employment to refugees to give them local work experience and job readiness skills to enter the UK workforce and to help them integrate into broader society.

All of their teabags are made from PLA. What’s more, their packaging is compostable, and their teas are organic, fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance certified. Their packaging is pretty funky too.

PG Tips

Place in your food waste bin | Loose leaf tea selection

Unilever-owned PG Tips made the switch to PLA a couple of years ago thanks to consumer pressure. Now their entire range can be industrially composted via your food waste bin.

Pukka

Home compostable or can go in your food waste bin

Unilever-owned Pukka makes organic and fairly sourced herbal teas. Their string and tag teabags have always been plastic and PLA-free. However, each individual bag used to come wrapped in an unrecyclable plastic-lined envelope. The good news is that Pukka has taken their environmental responsibilities seriously, and now use widely recyclable envelopes.   

Roqberry

Place in your food waste bin

Roqberry’s flavourful fruit and herbal infusions come in PLA plastic-based pyramids. From banana flavoured tea to blueberry, their unique tea blends tread lightly on the planet.

Sainsbury’s

Place in your food waste bin

I added Sainsbury’s to this plastic-free teabag list in August 2021. After news that from summer 2021 Sainsbury’s own-brand teabags will be plastic-free, as part of its ongoing commitment to halve plastic packaging by 2025, this finally rolled out in-store in August 2021. The new tea bags are made from PLA and are industrially compostable. What I also like is that the packaging is completely plastic-free too. The box isn’t wrapped in plastic, and nor is there a plastic foil bag inside the box. Accessible plastic-free tea for the win!

Suki Tea

Place in your food waste bin | Loose leaf tea selection

Based in Belfast, Suki Tea ethically source and blend loose leaf teas, herbal infusions and fruit blends from all over the world. They are best known for their tasty loose leaf tea, however, they do have a selection of PLA-based pyramid teabags.

T2

Place in your food waste bin | Loose leaf tea selection

Australian brand T2 reached the UK in 2014 and has quite a few High St stores dotted around the UK. Again, T2 is perhaps best known for its loose-leaf tea selection. However, its range of pyramid teabags is made from PLA for a more sustainable cup of tea.

Teapigs

Place in your food waste bin

Sustainable tea stalwarts Teapigs have always made teabags without the fossil fuel-based plastic – their tasty tea pyramids have always been PLA-based. However, Teapigs didn’t stop there. A few years ago they also switched the plastic inner bag to a home compostable bag. Top plastic-free marks!

Recently a reader informed me that Teapigs is owned by Tata, the giant industrial conglomerate that owns many brands – including Starbucks – which is disappointing to hear.

Teatulia

Place in your food waste bin | Loose leaf tea selection

Teatulia, an organic tea brand from Bangladesh, is a new brand to me, but I like what I see.

All their tea is grown at the Teatulia garden in the north of Bangladesh. Here more than 3,500 mainly female employees grow tea and herbs according to low-intensity natural and organic farming methods. Staff are also paid good wages and provided with healthcare and education. 

Teatulia does have a wide selection of loose leaf teas, and their tea bags are made of PLA.

Tick Tock Tea

Place in your food waste bin | Loose leaf tea selection

Tick Tock’s range of naturally decaffeinated rooibos teas are available in both PLA teabags and in loose-leaf formats. The pouch found inside the box is not currently recyclable. Instead, Tick Tock says that they are working on a fully recyclable wrap which will be available as soon as possible.

Twist Teas

Place in your food waste bin | Loose leaf tea selection

Twist Tea’s range of fruit, herbal and black teas are available in loose-leaf and PLA pyramid teabag formats.

Yorkshire Tea

Place in your food waste bin | Loose leaf tea selection

I’ve included Yorkshire Tea on this plastic-free list as they are currently rolling out their line of PLA teabags. They updated in April 2021 that:

About half of our UK Yorkshire teabags are now plant-based. That’s all the boxes in sizes 40, 160, and 240, and it applies to normal Yorkshire Tea as well as Yorkshire Gold, Yorkshire Tea Decaf, and Yorkshire Tea for Hard Water. Boxes of 210 are close behind and by the summer (2021) our boxes of 80 tea bags should all be plant-based too.

Which Teabags Do Contain Plastic?

As of April 2022, many teabags from big-name brands still contain plastic. These include the following brands.

Asda

Asda’s own brand teabags are not plastic-free, and there are no confirmed plans as to what Asda’s strategy on this source of plastic will be.

Aldi

Aldi’s Specially Selected Infusion tea bags are made from PLA. However, the remainder of Aldi’s teabags are heat-sealed using polypropylene plastic. In 2018 Aldi said they were looking into plastic-free alternatives across the rest of its own-brand tea range. Finally, in June 2021, Aldi confirmed they are removing single-use plastic from their own-brand range of teabags. This is scheduled to happen by the end of 2021. However, as of April 2022, I’ve heard no further update on this. I’ll update this post when this change comes into effect.

Lidl

Lidl’s pyramid teabags are made from PLA, making them industrially compostable. However, like Aldi, the rest of their range of teabags are sealed using polypropylene. I can’t find any details to say that they looking to switch to more sustainable options, which is disappointing.

Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer’s non-herbal range of tea bags still contains plastic.

In January 2021 Marks & Spencer told me over Twitter that “we changed our pyramid herbal teabags to a plant-based material at the end of 2019. These can be disposed of in food waste bins collected by local councils. We’re continuing to explore more sustainable options for our other tea bag ranges in the future”.

This non-committal action on plastic in the rest of their range of teabags is in contrast to an M&S press release issued in 2018. Here, Marks & Spencer said they were taking a “razor-sharp look at how we use plastics” and that “we’re taking plastics out of all 450 million teabags we sell“. It’s disappointing that four years later that ‘razor-sharp look‘ translates to a woolly ‘we’re continuing to explore… in the future‘.

As such, until their black tea is plastic-free I don’t class M&S as a plastic-free purveyor of tea.

Morrisons

I haven’t been able to find any information which suggests that Morrisons’ own-brand teabags are plastic-free. This means that for now, Morrisons is on the list of teabags that do contain plastic, until I hear otherwise.

Tetley

Currently, Tetley teabags contain plastic. However, their goal is to produce tea bags made from PLA. Trials have been run, where 3 million PLA teabags were produced and sold, to see if bag splitting would be an issue. The results were positive, so Tetley is now looking to roll out their plastic-free bags. However, no date has been given for this yet. I’ll update this blog post as and when their range launches.

Twinings

I’ve put Twinings in the plastic category, rather than the plastic-free category because I consider them a work in progress.

I tweeted Twinings to ask about the plastic in their tea in January 2021 and they told me “More than two-thirds of our products are loose-leaf or made using plant-based teabags & we’re working on switching the rest of our bags to a plant-based design. This will be completed in the next 6 months; find out more here“. Once they’ve switched I’ll update this article. I’ve heard nothing more as of April 2022.

To Conclude The Plastic-Free Teabag Conversation

Many teabag manufacturers have made the switch to more planet-friendly teabags. However, it’s clear that some of the big players, like Asda, M&S, Morrisons, and Lidl still have some way to go before all of the big teabag brands are plastic-free.

If your tea manufacturer of choice isn’t mentioned here, then do email or tweet them to ask about their teabags.

Whilst PLA is not an environmental panacea if disposed of correctly, it is better for the planet than fossil fuel-based plastic methods of sealing teabags. Therefore, it’s vitally important they are disposed of properly. If you don’t have access to council food waste collections, then your best course of action would be to tear open the bag to allow you to compost the tea leaves. You would then put the teabag in with your general waste.

Phew, that was a long one! Time to put the kettle on for a plastic-free cuppa I think! If you’ve enjoyed this, then do also check out my guide to the best oat milk. I’ve looked into all sorts of ethics behind the most popular oat milk brands in the UK and uncovered all sorts of murky things.

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Image of a black teapot and mug with a blue text box that says the teabags that are plastic free and those that contain plastic
Food & Drink, Food Waste Tips

The Difference Between Best Before & Use By Dates Explained

Confused by food labelling? Let me explain the meaning and the difference between best before dates and use by dates, to help you cut your food waste.

I’m big on cutting food waste. Not only does it make good financial sense to reduce the food we waste, but it also makes good environmental sense. In the UK alone, food waste accounts for between 6 to 7% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. This is because when food waste decomposes it releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

In fact, it’s estimated by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) that if every UK household stopped wasting food for one day, it could do the same for greenhouse gas emissions as planting 640,000 trees per day. This is around a staggering 230 million trees per year.

Food is also extremely resource-intensive to produce. If you’ve ever tried to grow your own food before, you’ll know just how hard it is to grow food. And not only that, but how much effort and resources, and water go into growing small amounts of food. On a much larger scale, the Carbon Trust says that for every tonne of food not wasted, the needless loss of 1,525,000 litres of water needed to produce that food will be avoided.

One way to cut food waste, is to get a good handle on what the different dates on the food we buy actually mean. One scientific study found that as much as 84% of shoppers are confused by expiration dates. This means a huge amount of edible food is being binned on a daily basis.

What Is the Difference Between Best Before And Use By Dates?

Image of a person holding a fig salad with a blue text box that says the difference between best before and use by dates explained.

It’s useful knowing about expiration dates to avoid food waste. Avoiding food waste not only saves money, but helps the environment too. This is in terms of the resources used to grow, make and transport food. And it’s also in terms of those greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.

We have dates on foods because food safety regulations dictate that the shelf-life of a foodstuff be indicated by one of two dates. This is either a date of minimum durability. This is what’s known as the ‘best before’ date. Or the item should have food safety date – the ‘use by’ date.  Here’s what these terms mean in more detail.

What Does The Best Before Date Mean?

The Best Before date (sometimes displayed as BBE, meaning Best Before End) relates to food quality rather than lifespan. This means that when the date runs out, it doesn’t mean that the food will be off or unsafe to eat. Instead, it means that beyond this date, the item is not guaranteed to be at its optimum freshness. So, beyond this date, the taste, appearance, or other attributes of the foodstuff may not be at its very best.

Generally, if the food has been stored correctly, and looks ok, smells ok, and tastes ok after its best before date then it’s good to eat. ⁣

A good example of this in practice is bread. After the best before date, bread goes a little stale. It’s perfectly ok to eat stale bread. You may prefer to toast the bread to make it taste better, but it won’t make you ill. However, as soon as the bread develops mould then that’s a very visible sign that the bread is no longer safe to eat.

Do note that the best before date only applies when the item has been stored in accordance with the storage instructions and it has not been opened. Once opened, it should be cooked and eaten as per the instruction printed on the pack, and any leftovers stored as instructed.

And What Does The Use By Date Mean?

Use by dates are most commonly found on fresh foodstuffs. These include items such as meat, dairy products, or pre-prepared food, such as soups, packaged salads, spreads, and dips.

In contrast to the best before date and its relation to food quality, the use by date relates to food safety. This means that you can cook, eat and freeze food up until and on the use-by date but not after. After the displayed date, it is highly likely that the food will be off and could make you sick.

However, do bear in mind that the use by date is only valid if the storage instructions printed on the packaging have been followed. For example, if an item says to keep refrigerated, then it must be stored in your fridge. If the item is left sitting out at room temperature for an extended period of time, then there is a risk that it will go off before the use-by date. For anything that has been stored out of the fridge for an extended time, then I would discard this food, even if it is before the printed date on the packaging.

The only time the use by date does not matter is if the item has been frozen after purchasing the item, and the item was still in date when it went into the freezer. In this case, its life will be extended well beyond the use by date. This could potentially be for up to one year depending on the item or freezing instructions on the packet.

However, it is important to remember that you should not freeze an item after its use-by date has passed.

What About Display Until Dates?

Ignore ‘display until’ dates. These dates don’t relate to food freshness or quality. Instead, they are used by some shops to help with their stock control and are not aimed at consumers. Instead, look at the use by or best before dates to help guide you.

Food Safety

If you’re in any way concerned about food safety then don’t eat the food in question. How an item looks and smells are good indicators of quality. If something looks off or smells off, then it probably is off, even if it is in date.

Hopefully, if you have been confused about food labels, then this guide will help you to reduce your food waste. If you’re looking for more food waste tips then do have a rummage in my food waste archives. I’ve got loads of clever tips here, to help you save money and cut your food waste.