Thursday 3 October 2019

Cuppa? Hold the Plastic!

The Danger of Hidden Plastics in Tea 

Back in 2010, consumer group Which published details about the regular use of plastic in tea bags. 

Many tea bag companies seal the bags with polypropylene. Coupled with plastic tags and wrappers that some use, it can become a problem. Tags & wrappers can be removed of course, but the hidden plastic in the bag themselves, meant that many teabags were sent to compost heaps around the world, contaminating the compost in the process. 

Some sites suggested ripping open the bags & composting just the contents. How many people (like me) weren't even aware that tea bags had plastics in them in the first place? A recent study in McGill University in Canada used tea bags that HAD been cut open but still found alarming amounts of micro and nano plastic particles in the hot brew. 

Thankfully, tea manufacturers have taken notice of the environmental concerns of plastics in tea. Some are using organic based plastics instead. 

Clipper Tea

According to Dorset based Clipper Tea: 'We are so proud to have launched the world’s first plastic-free, unbleached and non-GM pillow tea bags. Our special tea bag paper is made from a natural plant-based material. It’s a blend of abaca (a type of banana) plant cellulose fibres and PLA from non-GM plant material.' 

Look out for their organic unbleached and green tea boxes (see pic below). It's worth mentioning that although it says plastic free on the box, the BBC say as plastic made from plant material is used it is still classed as plastic. Clipper say the teabags can be composted but industrial composting only. More on the BBC article here.

Unbleached Organic Plastic Free Clipper Tea Bags in Box

P.S. - As an update, we have tried the organic, unbleached tea by clipper and can attest that they make a really good brew. Enough for two cups from just one bag!


Co-op joined forces with Typhoo to come up with a biodegradeable tea bag. Jo Whitfield, CEO of Co-op Food said in a 2018 interview, “Many tea drinkers are blissfully unaware that the teabag from their daily cuppa is sealed using plastic. Even though it’s a relatively small amount, when you consider the six billion cups of tea that are brewed up every year in the UK, we are looking at around 150 tonnes of polypropylene – that’s an enormous amount of accumulated plastic waste that is either contaminating food waste compost collections or simply going to landfill.' 

I was trying to find an update on this but can only find links to the 2018 blog post linked above but I understand their own brand 99 range will be biodegradeable.

PG Tips

PG tips announced in 2018 they will remove plastic from all its tea bags after more than 200,000 signed a gardener’s online petition. The Unilever-owned brand announced its tea bags will be made from a new plant-based material that is 100% renewable and biodegradable to help reduce the environmental impact of their products. 

On checking their site today I found a box with 100% biodegradebable bags - they say 'We’re committed to moving all our pyramid® bags to a new fully biodegradable, plant-based material. We’ve already made over 1 BILLION!' Wahay 😊


Meanwhile Pukka, the organic tea company state on their site 'Tea companies have recently come under scrutiny for the use of polypropylene, a plastic used to heat-seal the edges of teabags. Pukka doesn’t use this kind of material. 

'Instead, we use a simple stitch of organic cotton and a unique folding process. This means we don’t need to use polypropylene to hold our teabags together and our teabags are therefore free from plastic. We were the first company to ever use organic strings to hold our teabags together without the need of a metal staple or polypropylene.' 

Tea Pigs

Teapigs say 'We're the first tea brand to be awarded the Plastic Free Trust Trade Mark'. 

Tea temples (pyramid shape) are made from corn starch and paper that are biodegradeable via council food waste collections but not suitable for home composting. Or there's clear bags which are made from Natureflex (made from wood pulp) that are biodegradeable and also suitable for home composting. More details on their site

Teapigs are also committed to making their offices plastic free too! If your office is thinking of going plastic free there's a few tips on how they achieved it here


According to this 2018 article Tetley has confirmed it will begin trials at its manufacturing plants to use new tea bag tissue that will be “100 per cent biodegradable and free from polypropylene".  

According to the FAQ on their site checked today however, their teabags currently do still contain some plastic.
Yorkshire Tea

Yorkshire Tea began switching to renewable plant-based material in its tea bag seals after a successful trial run in May. All tea bags in the UK will be biodegradable by the end of 2019, according to the company.

This article reported a few problems in some batches where bags would split open. The company say they are "testing and tweaking" the new bags to improve them further.

A little update on progress can be found here.


This is just a handful of developments being made by tea companies, of course things do change so check with the manufacturer if you are not sure. Some products clearly stamp 'plastic free' on the box to help you (for instance the clipper, unbleached organic tea). 

Bear in mind that although some manufacturers have already made the change, older production lines may still be in store. Great to see at least that consumers have plenty of choices going forward! Meanwhile, others prefer to ditch the tea bags altogether and buy loose leaf instead. 

Hope you enjoy your cuppa anyway, without the plastics of course!

Tea or Coffee Mug with Forest background

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