Tea Bags: Plastic Pollution in Your Drink

Would you like a cup of tea with plastic? Unfortunately for the 96% of tea drinkers who make their tea using a tea bag, there’s a good chance you’re also consuming plastic.

Aside from being a single use throw away waste item, the majority of tea bags contain polypropylene, a type of plastic. These plastic fibres are woven between the paper threads to give the bag strength. Imagine what would happen to a thin paper tea bag left in boiling water if it didn’t have plastic threads to hold the bag together.

The polypropylene fibres not only give the tea bag strength, it’s a plastic sealant that glues the edges of the bag together.

The heat resistant plastic fibres and sealant are able to withstand temperatures of 100 degrees Celsius. The purpose of plastic in your tea bag is to prevent the bag from falling apart mid dunk. They are also estrogen-mimicking hormone disruptors and add nasty micro-plastics to your diet – tasty, not.

Word of warning! You should not put tea bags containing plastic into your compost bin or green waste bin as it causes plastic pollution.

A photo of a tea bag made with plastic fibres which has not broken down even after one and a half years.
Don’t put tea bags containing plastic in the compost

The tea company Twinings recommends that tea bags containing plastic are not used as fertiliser or as a soil conditioner. So why would you put it in a drink?

Different Types of Tea Bags

Pressed tea bags typically have a crimped edge. They are made by heat sealing the plastic fibres on the edges of the tea bag to form a glue.

String and tag tea bags are the most common type available. In most cases they contain plastic polypropylene or polyethylene terephthalate. Even tea bags closed by folding the bag and stapling it shut still have plastic fibres woven into the bag for added strength.

Premium silken tea bags have nothing to do with silk. It’s a euphemism for ‘made of plastic’. By calling the bag ‘silken’ consumers are led on to believe it’s natural and good for you.

Organic tea bags often have bags made with plastic – there’s nothing organic about that!

A chart showing pressed tea bags, silken tea bags and string-and-tag tea bags, all containing plastic
Do your tea bags contain plastic?

Which Tea Bags Contain Plastic?

Known manufacturers who use plastic in their tea bags are Lipton, Tetley, Twinings, PG Tips and Yorkshire Tea. Please note this list is not exhaustive and you may need to do your own research to find out if you are consuming plastic with your tea.

Alternatives To Using A Tea Bag

Loose leaf tea often has a nicer flavour than tea in a tea bag. It’s because the tea leaves in a tea bag are usually made from the smaller bits of lower grade leaf tea. There’s not much room in a tea bag and the small bits are all that fit in there.

Then there’s the psychological aspect that loose leaf tea would have to taste better as you know you’re not consuming plastic with every sip.

There’s a few different ways to make your bagless tea. My preferred method is to use an infuser which sits inside a mug. It’s great for when I would like to make a cup of tea for one person. Tea infusers can be purchased at places such as Biome.

A photo of a stainless steel tea infuser which sits inside a mug.
Tea infuser

It’s recommended that one teaspoon of tea leaves is used per cup. Personally, I find this too strong and use a quarter of a teaspoon.

On the other hand, my sister-in-law loves a strong cuppa and she would definitely need a heaped teaspoon. And that’s the of beauty about using tea leaves, you can easily adjust the amount for individual taste.

Another option for a single cup of tea would be a tea ball infuser.

A photo of a tea ball infuser.
Tea ball infuser

A tea ball infuser is not my favoured method. I find getting the tea leaves into the ball fiddly and there’s not enough room for the tea leaves to unfurl properly to release their flavour. Then when you’ve finished making the cup of tea, it’s a nuisance to get the tea leaves out of the ball.

Using a Teapot

If you need to make tea for more than one person, there’s some lovely teapot options such as a ceramic tea pot with an internal infuser as used by cafes. My favourite teapot for making a large amount of tea is a beautiful stainless steel teapot, also with an infuser, which will likely outlive me it’s so durable! Tea cosies are a fun way to individualise your teapot whilst being a practical addition.

A photo of a small teapot with a stainless steel infuser.
Cafe style small teapot with infuser

When making a cup of tea with black tea leaves, it’s recommended that the temperature of the water is around 85 degrees Celsius and not at 100 degrees (boiling point). The reason is that the slightly lower temperature results in a better tasting tea. The higher the temperature, the more bitter your tea will be due to extra tannins being released into the beverage.

An easy way to achieve this temperature is to turn the kettle off before it boils. Or allow the kettle to boil and then wait for the temperature to drop slightly.

(Personally, I pour the boiling water straight into my cup and infuser.)

Steep the tea leaves in hot water in your cup/mug/teapot for around 45 to 60 seconds. For a stronger flavour, allow the leaves to infuse for longer. And voila, your plastic free tea is ready!

Teapot Cosies!

Some fun tea cosies to inspire you!

Keen to reduce further plastics in contact with your food? Check out my blog post about plastic produce bags and plastic straws.

Please comment below with your favourite plastic free tea brands.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.