In Search of a Zero Waste Tea

Some of you know that I volunteer with an environmental group here in the Raleigh area. A common question we receive from members involves tea, tea bags, what’s in them exactly and how to dispose of them properly. We researched some tea companies and here is what we learned. *note this information was obtained between March 2018 and Dec 2018. This post will be shared with Toward Zero Waste readers, as well. Grab a cuppa and read on.

Back in March 2018, we conducted a survey through our Toward Zero Waste Facebook Groups regarding tea packaging. One of our members had begun to find tea packaging sized plastic in her finished compost and realized that some her tea packaging waste was clearly not zero waste!

Remains of composted tea envelopes (bottom has been washed)

So, we set out to find a truly compostable, zero waste tea brand. Instead of buying up all the tea we could find locally and testing it ourselves, we decided to crowdsource information knowing folks would have tea in their cupboards they could check for us! We then followed up with the brands folks shared.

Here we share the survey results, the responses received from companies we contacted, and enough information for you to make an informed decision next time you’re in the market for some tea to get your tea routine more ”toward” zero waste.

First,

Responders provided answers to the following questions:

  1. Is tin or box wrapped in plastic?
  2. Is there wrapping on the tea bag?
  3. Is that wrapping paper? (Sometimes really hard to tell! I literally tear mine slowly while holding to the light to see if there is a plastic liner.)
  4. Is the tea bag itself paper, plastic, silk or other?
  5. Is there a staple?

Next,

A spreadsheet was made to reflect the survey results:

Tea Survey Results Excel

Eight companies in the survey were contacted and five responded. Some did so via a short list, some with lengthy explanation and some with plans for future changes:

Harney & Sons:

1. The tins of sachets have a plastic safety seal around the lid. The cardboard boxes of teabags are not wrapped in plastic. Tins of loose tea are sealed with tape.

2. The tea bag wrappers are made from layers of paper, aluminium, and plastic.

3. Teabags are made from unbleached paper, sachets are a BPA-free food-grade nylon.

4. The teabags are folded and held together by the string. The sachets are heat sealed.

Equal Exchange:

Tea is packed in a double chamber teabag. The teabag components are made of the following:

1. Teabag:  The tea bag itself is made of a special blend of abaca material also sometimes known as manila hemp.

2.Tea tag: Paper

3.Tea bag string: Cotton

Our current envelopes are not recyclable or compostable due to their protective inner lining. This lining is made of EVOH (ethyl vinyl alcohol), which is an great barrier to a host of organic and inorganic elements, including oxygen and humidity. With the help of this lining, our Equal Exchange teas will stay fresh for up to two years, maintaining full flavor and functional benefits during this period of time.

The tea and string inside the envelopes are organic.  
The tea, tea bags and string can be composted or recycled (recycle after first composting the tea leaves).
The Equal Exchange tea boxes are made with recycled ingredients printed with vegetable-based ink and 100% recyclable.

Yogi-Tea:

Yogi tea cartons are packaged without any outer carton wrap.
Tea bags are individually sealed inside paper envelopes that do contain a protective inner lining made of EVOH (ethyl vinyl alcohol), which is a form of plastic. This lining acts as a food safety barrier, eliminating the need for any outer carton wrap. Our individually sealed tea bags preserve the freshness and quality of our teas for up to two years in a variety of shipping and storage conditions.  

For our tea bags, we use a non-heat sealable filtration paper made from a select blend of high quality manila hemp (abaca) fibers and wood pulp. This paper is oxygen bleached using a natural process free of chemicals or toxins.

While some of our tea bags are packaged with staples to seal the bag and attach the tag, we are happy to report that in recent years, we have invested in several new tea machines that do not use staples. While we also continue to use our existing machinery that does use staples, close to 50% of all Yogi teas produced are now being packaged on these new machines, and we are happy to be taking steps towards full production of Yogi teas in fully compostable tea bags. The transition to full production without staples will take some time, and we thank you for your feedback and patience as we pursue this goal.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Twinings of London:

BiodegradableRecyclableCompostable
FOILNoNoNo
CARTONYesYesYes
SRP-shelf ready pckgYesYesYes
TEABAG C24NoNoNo
TEABAG Mesh bagYesNoYes
LABELSIf Paper YesIf Paper YesYes
SHRINK WRAPNoNoNo
VMOPP ENVO C24NoNoNo
PAPER/PE ENVONoNoNo
OUTER CASEYes if corrugatedYesYes
STRING/COTTONYesNoYes

Celestial Seasonings:

You will be happy to know that we have purchased new equipment and are now producing 50% of our product with no staples. We will increase our staple-less teas over time.

A mere paper over wrap does not provide adequate protection of the medicinal herbs in our teas, so to maintain the shelf life of the product, we use two different types of overwraps depending on the product and if there are essential oils that need to be preserved. Both overwraps serve to preserve the quality of our product. We’re still looking for an alternative to the plastic lining in the over wrap, as we share similar concerns, but have yet to find an adequate alternative.

Teabag:

  • Our teabags themselves are not recyclable, however they are biodegradable & compostable.
  • Our tea bag paper is manufactured with a totally chlorine free (TCF) whitening process to eliminate dioxin from the earth’s water supply.
  • We use pillow teabags–without strings, tags, staples, or foil envelopes—to reduce materials added to waste sites.

Inner Wrapper:

  • The inner wrapper is not recyclable.
  • It is a 5-layer inner wrapper (plastic-poly surrounded by paper on both sides then wax on both sides).  It is what gives the product its shelf life.  Without this the tea would essentially have no shelf life.
  • Is approved for direct food contact
  • Provides a barrier for outside contaminants, including vapor, O2, etc.

Box:

  • More than 85% of our paperboard tea cartons come from 100% recycled paperboard, made from at least 30% post-consumer material.
  • The ink used on our boxes is made with soy, linseed, and vegetable oil, which supports the agricultural economy and meets clean air regulations.  The glossy look to our artwork comes from a water based high gloss coating.

So, are you rethinking your tea bags yet? We certainly are! We did find a company not included in the survey that offers eco-friendly loose tea and compostable round paper tea bags.

From Teatulia.com:

Both of Teatulia’s tea bag options are made of unbleached, compostable materials that are chemical-free. There are no tags, strings, staples or extra packaging for our tea bags, so we’re able to deliver convenience with less waste. And both of our tea bags contain only fresh, flavorful, artisan-produced tea leaves.

Our pyramid tea bag:

We offer our organic, whole leaf teas packaged in single-serving corn silk pyramid tea bags. Our pyramid tea bags are large and roomy to give the fresh tea leaves plenty of space to interact with hot water for full flavor extraction. They can even be steeped multiple times, so you can get several cups of tea out of one tea bag.

Teatulia's Pyramid Tea Bag

Our round tea bag:

For customers who’ve asked for the ultimate in convenience plus the strong flavor of a full-bodied tea, we’re now offering tea in round, unbleached paper bags. Unlike commercial tea bags filled with low-grade, shredded tea leaves and tea dust, our round tea bags are filled with fresh, organic, fine-cut tea leaves. The resulting brew is fuller-bodied and stronger than our pyramid tea bag brew.

Teatulia's Round Tea Bag

Thanks to those who helped with the survey. Practicing a zero-waste lifestyle make us see common things (like tea bags) in a whole new way (what becomes of my tea bag and how was it made?). Companies will need to find ways to keep their products fresh while simultaneously being good stewards of their customers’ air, sea and Earth. Based on the responses from the companies we contacted, I’d say our voices are being heard and more sustainable packing methods are on the horizon! I hope you found some quality information and inspiration that will be useful in your transition toward zero-waste.

If you are looking for a completely zero waste tea option, buying in bulk in your own container is your best bet. Here are a few local options:

Whole Foods– Stocks The Republic of Tea brand in bulk.

Earth Fare- Stocks the Frontier Co-op brand in bulk.

Sprouts- Stocks the Frontier Co-op brand in bulk.

Cary Downtown Farmers MarketWestern Dragon Teas and Tisanes blends their own teas.  Anthony will happily fill your container with the tea of your choice, but you may have to leave your container with him and let him bring it back the next week.

Tin Roof Teas in Cameron Village- www.tinroofteas.com has tons of tea options. You can bring your own container or take advantage of their loyalty program by buying one of their tins and refilling it for 5% off each time.

We would love to hear any feedback that you have as it would help us to improve future events, posts and community outreach.

One thought on “In Search of a Zero Waste Tea

  1. noelietrex says:

    I buy loose leaf tea from our zero-waste store, but you can also buy loose leaf tea in tins which are at least recyclable in stores and online. I love our metal tea clamp as well as my teapot with built-in diffuser for brewing loose leaf. The diffusing teapots are available regularly at our thrift shops.

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