Today let’s talk about eco-friendly alternatives to cling film.
Growing up cling film was used ubiquitously in my house (ubiquitously!). However, at some point since leaving home at the age of 17, I stopped using the stuff. I can’t remember exactly when as it has been well over a decade since I last bought cling film. What I do know is that it was no great loss to me not having a roll to hand. Finding alternatives that worked just meant thinking a bit more creatively in the kitchen.
Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Cling Film
Here are the eco-friendly alternatives to cling film that work for us:
The Creative Use of Crockery & Other Kitchen Ephemera
Got some leftovers from dinner time? If the food is in a bowl I’ll cover the leftovers with a plate and pop it in the fridge for later. If the leftovers are on a plate I’ll use an upturned plate to cover the plate with. And if you’re in a pickle and out of plates, then saucepan lids also make pretty good plate and bowl covers too. Pro tip!
For reheating food in the microwave I simply pop a non-metallic plate on top of the plate or bowl. This helps avoid food splatters. So thrifty, so simple, and my favourite cling film alternative. If your fridge is a bit on the full side you can even balance things on top of the plate. Pro tip two!
Food Storage is Your Friend, Not Cling Film
I have a fairly extensive collection of Tupperware, amassed over the years. I use these to decant leftovers into or to store foodstuffs in the fridge that I might once have otherwise wrapped in clingfilm, such as a block of cheese, a half chopped onion, or something similar.
I’m planning to replace my plastic Tupperware with glass Tupperware as it breaks.
The best glass Tupperware I can find is by Glasslock. You can put the glass trays (without the lids) directly into the microwave and oven (up to 230°C). What’s more, as they’re glass, they won’t stain if you put tomato-based foods in them. They are also 100% airtight and leakproof too. They are even freezer-safe. I think they just sound a lot more durable than plastic Tupperware. The only thing is Glasslock isn’t currently widely available in the UK. I’ve found them available on Amazon*. I’ve sometimes seen them on offer at Costco too.
As well as Tupperware I also use glass jars to store food in, rather than wrapping some cling film over a bowl. Leftover soup lends itself to being stored in a lidded jar quite nicely. And if you want to take the soup to work the next day for lunch then you can just cart your soup to work with you in your bag. No spills!
Tea Towels Aren’t Just for, Err, Tea
My partner makes us homemade pizza each and every Friday. If you’ve ever made dough before, you’ll know this means making the dough. Then you need to leave it to rise someplace warm for a few hours. Instead of wrapping the bowl with cling film, we cover the bowl with a clean dry tea towel or napkin. In the summer we set the bowl on the windowsill to prove. And in winter we sit the bowl near the wood-burning stove.
If you don’t like the idea of using a tea towel, don’t worry. If you are handy with a sewing machine then you can make these pretty bowl covers instead.
Mind Your Own Beeswax
If you want to wrap food up – for example, a hunk of cheese – then beeswax wraps are pretty amazing eco-friendly alternatives to cling film. These mould around food with just the heat of your hands and are washable. You can make your own in minutes using beeswax pellets and fabric scraps with this handy beeswax wrap DIY. If you’re time-poor you can buy them online* instead. A word of advice – don’t use them on hot food or on meat. Instead, pop the hot food or meat in a bowl and use the wrap to cover the bowl.
Reusable Food Bags Are Great Eco Alternative to Cling Film
When I think of packed lunches I ate at school, I think of ham or cheese salad sandwiches tightly wrapped up in clingfilm. These days I approach packed lunches a little differently. For eco-friendly alternatives to cling film I have a few Keep Leaf sandwich bags* that I pop sandwiches into, before placing them in a lunch bag.
I actually bought the Keep Leaf bags as easily portable snack pouches for my daughter. I’ve found I’ve got to have snacks to hand at all times. As such, I wanted to cut down on single-use plastic from toddler snacks. However, I find I use them for sandwiches a lot too when we’re out and about. You can either wipe down the inside, or hand wash or machine wash the sandwich bags ready for the next use.
For a no-cost alternative, I will also wrap sandwiches in a cotton napkin. Or, if I’m using a Tupperware tub or lunchbox I’ll pop the sandwich straight in – no covering required.
Hopefully, I’ve encouraged you to give these eco-friendly alternatives to cling film a go! Although I have a few things that I’ve bought, these aren’t essential. I hope the takeaway message here is that giving up cling film just means being creative with what you already own. And if you don’t use cling film, I wonder, have I missed any tricks?
I also have a ton of food waste tips right this way, if you are looking for more ideas to cut food waste!
There is an updated version of this post – the teabags without plastic – that I wrote in 2021. This gives a much more up-to-date picture of the tea/plastic landscape in the UK.
First, 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 of cups, and a bad day if tea has been in scarce supply. In short, there are few things I love more than tea.
Is There Plastic In Your Tea?
But what if your beloved cup of tea is hiding a dark secret? Well, I’m afraid to be the harbinger of doom. However, 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. This is so the teabags don’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.
As a lot of the information stems from 2010, I wanted to get an up-to-date overview of the tea industry in 2018. I donned my investigative cap and emailed a few of the main tea maker. I wanted to know 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:
To be helpful, here is a visual guide to the types of teabags referred to by the manufacturers:
Which Teabags Contain Plastic?
Information correct as of 2nd April 2018:
Teapigs got back to me first (within minutes) to let me know that all of their teabags do not contain polypropylene. Instead, their tea bags are made from a by-product of corn starch known as Soilon.
Soilon is a bioplastic, which means these types of teabags are not suitable for composting at home. Instead, they require high temperatures to be able to compost – so should only be placed in your food waste bin provided by your local council. They will not biodegrade in a home compost system or in landfill, so it’s important to be mindful of how you dispose of them.
Packaging wise, the clear inner bag used to be polypropylene. However, Teapigs say their teas are now packed in Natureflex. This is a completely compostable material made from wood pulp, which can be composted at home or in your local council food waste bin.
Taylors of Harrogate
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. Here the material is derived from maize starch. As such it is fully biodegradable and compostable (via your local council food waste bin, rather than at home). 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. Instead, their teabag is sewn shut by a 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
They also told me their supply of teabag paper is Chlorine-free and unbleached. What’s more, they are staple-free and 100% biodegradable and/or recyclable. Meanwhile, the teabag strings are made from 100% organic, non-GMO, unbleached cotton.
Each tea bag is individually packaged in a plastic sachet though. This means whilst the bags are plastic free, there is a bit of plastic waste from one box of tea.
PG Tips pyramid tea bags are now made from a plant-based material that is 100% renewable and biodegradable. Again, like Teapigs, this bag is a bioplastic produced from corn.
Again, these should be placed in your local council food waste bin rather than your home composter or in your landfill bin.
I haven’t had a chance to check out the pyramid teabags yet. However, any teabags I have had from PG Tips in the past tend to be wrapped in plastic, so I would be interested to learn if the box is wrapped in plastic.
The Unilever-owned company also says it is working to make all its teabags from 100% plant-based material by the end of the year. They told me via email in June 2017 that their current standard 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“.
Tetley 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 the bag and dispersing the contents should help the composting process, but it’s important to note this won’t help with the microplastics problems.
Clipper confirmed via Twitter that they do use plastic in their teabags, even in their unbleached organic tea bags, saying that “Currently, the filter paper in our pillow tea bags does contain polypropylene to provide the heat-seal function“. Their FAQ stated in June 2017 that “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”, which they have since updated.
In January 2018 Clipper updated their position, saying “We have been working together with our packaging providers to find a better alternative to polypropylene in tea bags. We have already completed one production trial to test an alternative solution and have another planned in February . Being plastic-free is very important to us as a brand and we are working hard to ensure we can do this as soon as possible whilst also maintaining the high quality of our tea“, so we can hope to see plastic-free Clipper tea shortly.
Clipper previously reported that their string and tag teabags were plastic-free, but as of April 2018 have reported that these teabags also contain plastic.
Typhoo have so far declined to comment. I’ll update as and when they do. (April 2018 edit – 10 months on they still haven’t commented).
The Co-Op has stated that their “own brand tea bags, along with most in the UK, contain a very small amount of plastic binder to hold them together. This does not melt in boiling water. WRAP, the government’s official anti-waste advisory group, advises to put used teabags in food waste collections or in-home composting, however, we are working with our suppliers to find a way to replace the plastic binder completely“.
In January 2018 the Co-op announced it is to make its own-brand Fairtrade 99 teabags free of polypropylene, and the tea bags are due to go on sale by the end of 2018.
Aldi has confirmed that their teabags “contain a minimum quantity of ‘food safe”’resin” (plastic).
The Polypropylene Free Bags
To summarise, as of April 2018 the following teabags are polypropylene free:
Twinings Pyramid tea bags
PG Tips pyramid teabags (bioplastic)
Tetley’s catering range
It is worth bearing in mind that in most of these cases the packaging is not plastic-free, with the exception of Teapigs.
The following teabags are NOT plastic-free
Taylors of Harrogate
The following teabags are expected to be plastic-free later on in 2018 but currently are not:
PG Tips standard teabags
Co-Op 99 teabags
What Can You Do?
Email or tweet the tea companies to ask them if they have stopped using plastic in their teabags, and if not, when are they going to stop. If enough people do this the companies will take notice.
Here are the email addresses and Twitter handles of the companies in question:
If your preferred brand of tea isn’t on this list then why not email or tweet them to find out where they stand on plastic in tea bags – you can let me know the responses in the comments below.
Until things change, or if you’re not keen on the idea of bioplastics, then 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:
A cheery teapot* with a metal infuser basket. This means there’s no need for additional tools or tea leaves floating in your tea. This is the teapot I use and love it.
What’s your favourite loose leaf tea? I’ve started making my own mint tea – here’s how to dry mint leaves for tea. But I’m wondering, is there a 100% plastic-free loose leaf tea? I’d be keen to hear your finds too!
ps: Found this post useful? You might want to check out my guide to glitter – also a microplastic.
I'm Wendy and welcome to Moral Fibres, a UK based eco-blog. I'm a sustainability expert, and my aim is to make sustainability simple, by researching and writing on all things environmental - from product guides to breaking down big ideas - so you don't have to.
As well as the blog I've also written a book on natural cleaning - Fresh Clean Home is out now!
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