A hot cup of tea sounds like a soothing and comforting drink, but many of us are unaware of the materials that most tea bags are made of. Your hot cuppa sounds a lot less appealing when you know that many tea bags contain plastic, polypropylene to be exact. It is added to the paper tea bag to help heat seal them during manufacture so they don’t come open in the box, or in your cup. This means that tea bags are not biodegradable, so you cannot throw them in your compost. Worldwide this means a whole lot of waste (in the UK alone 165 million cups of tea are drunk on a daily basis of which 96% are made with tea bags) since tea is the second most popular drink in the world (after water). But that is not the only problem. At temperatures even below boiling point (the temperature at which you drink your tea), the molecules in PET (and food grade nylon) start to break down which means that toxins could leach into your drink.
The problem with the paper in tea bags is that many of these bags are treated with a composition called epichlorohydrin, which is used to produce epoxy resins and acts as a pesticide. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the USA labels it a potential carcinogen, and it’s been shown to cause cancer in animals, impair fertility, and weaken immune function (by the way, coffee filters, sausage casings, and water filters are also treated with epichlorohydrin).
Thankfully, many tea brands are going biodegradable in the foreseeable future, but in the meantime here is what can you do to enjoy a nice and plastic-free cup of tea and help reduce the amount of waste:
1. Use loose tea and and an infuser
2. Choose tea brands that use biodegradable tea bags, like Teapigs, Zonnatura, PG Tips,
3. Avoid tea brands that use plastic in their tea bags, like Typhoo, Tetley, Twinnings and Lipton.