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Food & Drink

Food & Drink, Kitchen Staples

The Teabags Without Plastic in 2021

Wanting to know which teabags without plastic exist in the UK in 2021? I’ve rounded up the best plastic-free teabags and shared the teabags with plastic.

Back in 2017, I wrote about the plastic in teabags. 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’ve had a lot of requests to update the article, so here we are today! 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 though 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 that 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 2021

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 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 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.

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!

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.

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 said in November that:

We’re replacing the oil-based plastic in our tea bags with a plant-based plastic called PLA, and about 1/5 of our UK Yorkshire Teabags have now switched. They’ve been in the shops since February so you may already have bought some! We were going to roll it out to more machines this year, but Covid-19 has brought big changes for factories. Keeping our staff distanced means keeping production simple, and the switch to PLA is anything but simple“.

Which Teabags Do Contain Plastic?

As of July 2021, many teabags from big name brands still contain plastic. These include the following brands.

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. Yet it appears they are still looking into this in July 2021.

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.

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 three 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.

Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s are on this list for now. The good news is 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. The new tea bags will be made from PLA and will be industrially compostable. I’ve updated this post in July 2021, and there isn’t news yet about Sainsbury’s switch to PLA. As soon as there is a change from Sainsbury’s I will update here.

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 July 2021.

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 M&S, Aldi and Lidl still have some way to go before all of the big tea bag 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.

Food & Drink, Kitchen Staples

Which Oat Milk Is The Best? 11 Milks Rated

best oat milk

Which oat milk is the best? I have been asked this very question with increasing frequency this year. Especially so after some news stories broke earlier this year linking a certain oat milk company to deforestation in the Amazon. There’s more on this deeper in the article, so do keep reading.

We made the switch to oat milk for all our dairy needs quite some years ago now. In our quest to find the best oat milk, we have tried just about every oat milk going.

In this article, let me run you through the eleven most widely-available oat milk brands in the UK. I’ll let you know what I think about the taste, and look into the ethics behind each brand, to help you decide which oat milk is the best.

Maybe grab a hot beverage – perhaps a plastic-free cup of tea – because it’s going to be a big one!

Why Oat Milk?

First off, you might be wondering why I’m focusing on oat milk and not other non-diary alternatives.

Whilst non-dairy alternatives can be made from a variety of crops, some are more problematic than others. Almond and rice are water-thirsty crops. Almonds alone require more water than any other dairy alternative, consuming 130 pints of water to produce a single glass of almond milk. Coconut milk also has its problems. As the demand for coconut milk has grown, this has led to deforestation and the exploitation of workers.

Oats, on the other hand, tend to be grown in cooler climates such as the northern US, Canada, and Europe. Therefore, oats are not associated with deforestation in developing countries. Oats also requires considerably less water than almonds and rice to produce a glass of milk.

Which Oat Milk Is the Best?

which oat milk is the best?

Now let’s focus on the oat milk brands. This list is in alphabetical order, rather than in order of best to worst. You’ll soon see why.

Alpro

I have tried a few of Alpro’s oat milk offerings. Their regular oat milk (£1.80 for 1 litre) is too thin and too sweet for my taste. I can tolerate it in cereal or porridge, just about. However, in tea and coffee it’s a no-go for me. The Alpro barista oat milk (£1.90 for 1 litre) was way too sweet, and I definitely expected a lot more creaminess to it than what it offered.

In terms of ethics, Alpro is owned by Danone, one of the big dairy major players. Danone has a 26% share in the global fresh dairy products market. Their fresh dairy products account for €11bn of their total sales, whilst bottled water accounts for €4.7bn of their total sales. Let’s just say it’s an uncomfortable contradiction, buying oat milk (particularly if you are buying oat milk as an environmental choice) knowing that you are supporting big dairy AND bottled water.

Aldi

Aldi’s Pro Nature Only Oat Milk (75p for 1 litre) is a basic oat milk – containing only oats and milk. It’s not fortified with any vitamins or minerals, like some of the other oat milk brands, which is something to bear in mind if fortification is important to you.

As you might expect from oat milk made from just oats and water, there isn’t a whole lot going on. It’s not sweet, just oaty, but I personally found this milk a bit too thin and watery for my tastes. However, in terms of price, it’s the cheapest oat milk I’ve found, and due to its low ingredient list, then it could be a great choice for those that are intolerant to some additives.

In terms of ethics, Aldi does not fare so well. It comes lowest in the list of Oxfam’s 2020 human rights ratings of UK supermarkets. In terms of the environment, it’s a little more positive, as they have a commitment to reduce the volume of plastic packaging used by 50% by 2025. However this is a non-binding commitment.

Asda

Asda own brand UHT oat milk (85p for 1 litre) is, for me, the best budget oat milk. Not too thick, not too thin, it has the perfect consistency for tea, coffee, and cereal. It has a great taste – not too sweet, and not too over-powering. What’s more, it’s fortified with calcium, vitamin D2, vitamin B12, and iodine.

Asda own brand fresh oat milk (85p for one litre), on the other hand, is a complete abomination. How they can get their UHT milk so right, but their fresh milk so wrong is beyond me. I think it tastes like wax crayon. Oat milk should never taste of wax crayon. Whoever has made it clearly hasn’t tasted it. Avoid at all costs.

In terms of ethics, Asda was owned by US behemoth Walmart for 21 years. In 2020, a majority stake was bought by UK-based Issa Brothers, the billionaire owners of the Lancashire-based petrol forecourt firm EG Group. Walmart retains a minority stake in the business.

Ethical Consumer has highlighted a number of issues under Walmart ownership. From slavery in the Walmart supply chain to accusations of discrimination by Asda employees. It will be interesting to see if things change under their new ownership.  

Innocent

What about Innocent’s oat milk (£2 for 750ml)? Well, the positive is that it comes in a plastic bottle, which is easier to recycle than the tetra-paks that all the other brands of oat milk come in. The negative is that Innocent oat milk does not taste good. It’s so thin and watery and, frankly, does a disservice to oats. I couldn’t even finish the carton.

In terms of how ethical Innocent is, it’s a dismal picture. Innocent is owned by Coca Cola. In 2009, they bought a 20% share in Innocent, and in 2013 they took full ownership.

Ethical Consumer Magazine’s research into Coca-Cola highlights several ethical issues. These include climate change, habitats & resources, palm oil, pollutions and toxics, human rights, workers’ rights, irresponsible marketing, animal rights, controversial technologies, anti-social finance, and political activities. 

best oat milk

Lidl

Lidl’s Just Free Unsweetened Oat Milk (89p for 1 litre) is similar to Aldi’s oat milk. Both in terms of minimal ingredients, and the fact it has no added vitamins or minerals.

The milk itself is thin and watery, and not particularly creamy. In terms of taste, it’s not sweet, which is a big plus point for me. It’s acceptable in tea. However, because of its thin consistency, it did not make for a pleasant cup of coffee or bowl of cereal.

If you are a tea drinker looking for basic milk at a more affordable price, then this is a good option, otherwise, I would avoid this one.

Ethics wise, Ethical Consumer Magazine research has highlighted several ethical issues with Lidl. These include climate change, habitats & resources, pollution, human rights, workers’ rights, anti-social finance, animal rights, controversial technologies, political activities, anti-social finance, and factory farming. 

Morrisons

Morrisons own brand oat milk (85p for 1 litre) is high up there in my opinion. It’s got a good creaminess to it and the perfect consistency. It’s not too sweet, and it’s enriched with calcium, Vitamin E, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B2, and Vitamin D. Go for the long life, rather than the fresh stuff. We did not enjoy their fresh oat milk. At all.

As far as supermarkets go, I quite like Morrisons. They seem quite progressive when it comes to plastic packaging, and in’ tackling food waste. Last year it was was named the UK’s most environmentally responsible retailer. However, in the same year, Oxfam alleged human rights abuse in Morrisons supply chain, so it’s clear they have some way to go.

Minor Figures

Minor Figures Barista Oat Milk* (£2 for 1 litre) is the latest oat milk that I have tried in my quest for the best oat milk.

I do like this one. It doesn’t separate in coffee. It’s got a good consistency. It’s got a good taste, and it is enriched with calcium. The only thing I don’t find stands up is the claim from Minor Figures that it is foamable. The milk just does not give a good foam compared to Oatly Barista – it’s a much thinner milk.

With regards to ethics, in 2019 Minor Figures sold a near 20% stake in their company to an anonymous US-based private investment fund. Who this private investment is from, Minor Figures are staying tight-lipped about it, other than the fact that the investor has a number of investments in the plant-based space. What they may also invest in is unknown.

Oatly

Oatly has a few different types of oat milk available. In my opinion, the best one is Oatly Barista (£1.80 for 1 litre). A nice creamy milk, I find I need to use a lot less of this milk in my beverages to get them to the desired colour. Oatly Barista also makes a mean frothy coffee.

Ethics wise, it’s complicated. In 2020, Oatly sold a stake of the company to Blackstone, a private equity group. However, Less Waste Laura linked Blackstone to a controversial Brazilian infrastructure investment that has been accused of contributing to deforestation in the Amazon.

Blackstone has denied having all links to deforestation. However, notwithstanding that accusation, Blackstone’s CEO Stephen Schwarzman has been a prominent Wall Street supporter of Donald Trump, donating $3m to support the president’s re-election. It certainly leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Provamel

Provamel milk* (£2.09 for 1 litre) is not my milk of choice. Weak and watery, it makes a pretty insipid cup of tea and did not fare well in coffee either.

Whilst all of Provamel’s products are organic and GMO free, Provamel, has since 2016 been owned by Danone. This ownership is troubling. Read more in the Alpro section of this guide to best oat milk, if you want to know more about Danone.

Provitamil

I bought a carton of Provitamil (£1.59 for one litre) when the local shop was all out of all other brands of oat milk. This should really have been a sign that maybe this brand of oat milk was not up to scratch. But what can I say, when the choice was this or black tea then there are always tough decisions to be made.

I found Provitamil watery and weak. You could pour in a quarter of a carton and it wouldn’t change the colour of the tea. I switched to mint tea during this sad time, because I could not bear this milk.

Provitamil is made in the UK and is part of the Drinks Brokers Ltd portfolio of brands. Within Drinks Brokers Ltd portfolio is their own brand cows milk and Springwise Bottled Water. If you’re looking for vegan milk that doesn’t support the dairy industry, or the bottled water industry, then I’m afraid it’s not this one.

Rude Health

Rude Health Oat Milk (£2.29 for 1 litre) is another oat milk that I struggle with the texture and consistency. It’s just too thin and takes a lot of milk to get my tea to the desired colour. I seem to go through a lot more milk when I use this brand. This isn’t great when it’s one of the most expensive oat milks around.

In 2019 PepsiCo acquired a minority 9% stake in Rude Health. Whilst this minority share means they won’t have much sway in Rude Health’s operations, Pepsico has in the past been accused of humans rights violations.

Are Their Other Oat Milk Options?

If you want to opt out of buying pre-made oat milk, one option would be to make your own oat milk. Personally, I’ve not had much success in doing so. It’s a bit of a faff, and can be a bit slimy. However, once I find a good technique I’ll be sure to share it here on the blog.

Another option, if it is available to you, is to support local producers making and selling their own oat milk.

One example of this is The Butterfly Effect in Insch, Aberdeenshire. Their milk comes in glass bottles, which you can return for a refill, making it a more circular option. I think this would be a wonderful step forward for our local economies. It’s also something that I hope really catches on around the country.

Is Any Oat Milk Ethical?

As you’ve read, there are many issues. From big dairy to big investors with dubious portfolios, to anonymous investors, and big supermarket chains with dubious supply chains. As such, it’s really tough to say which is the most ethical oat milk. Each brand has its own issues.

Personally? I would buy whatever oat milk is easily available to you at the price point you can afford, and the taste you enjoy. Why do I think this? Well, what I think this article highlights is the limitation of green consumerism.

More people are switching from dairy to non-dairy alternatives because of concerns about climate change. And yes, this undoubtedly helps the environment. However, green consumerism on its own won’t save us from climate change. When a green product that we buy is used to possibly help fund the dairy industry, other non-green investments, or to line the pockets of shareholders then green consumerism cannot be the answer to climate change.

Oats and Activism

This is not to say that I don’t think that green consumerism doesn’t work at all. I just think it needs to be coupled with green activism to bring about systems change.

Elizabeth Cline addresses this extensively in this article for Atmos – where she writes: “We must not mistake Ethical Consumption—a private act—for political power or organized, collective social change that benefits everyone. When we retreat into our Ethical Consumer bubbles, some of the most powerful institutions in our society get a free pass to run roughshod over people who don’t have the market choices we do“.

So drink oat milk. But also, where you can, also campaign for better policies and regulations that align with your ethics. I’m reading my way through this book* at the moment to help me understand more about effective activism.

PS: Whilst we’re on the subject of oat milk and hot beverages, you might also like my articles on is there plastic in your tea, and plastic-free instant coffee. And to help reduce food waste, here’s my article on freezing oat milk.