Why Is There Plastic In Our Teabags?

Laurentine ten Bosch LAURENTINE TEN BOSCH

There’s something special about sitting down with a hot cup of tea. It might be the moment of silence and bliss I get in the ritual, and it might be the feeling of when a blend perfectly fits my needs. Teas can be incredible, powerful supports with widespread health benefits, but something caught my attention recently and I had to discover more.

I stumbled across this video from the BBC, highlighting the growing issue of plastic in most commercial teabags, and I was horrified. Because they’re fragments of microplastics, if we’re not ingesting them (which is a huge concern for our health over time), we’re plausibly washing them straight into our oceans - and that’s a massive problem for the environment and all of the beautiful creatures that live in it. If you’re one to compost your teabags, with this plastic component, they won’t ever fully break down. If you’re one to send them straight to the bin, then this plastic will likely sit in a landfill for thousands of years.

In a test undertaken with a copper ammonia solution (which dissolves anything that isn’t plastic), some organic brands of tea were entirely dissolved. Other, popular brands like Twinings, a significant amount of the teabag remained - indicating the alarming (and unnecessary) levels of plastic in the teabags. Further tests confirmed that the teabags contain polypropylene, a non-biodegradable plastic expected to survive in the environment for hundreds of thousands of years. Essentially, the planet can’t keep up with the amounts of plastic-infused tea we’re drinking.

Not only should we be worried about their biodegradability, but what these chemicals used to make the plastic are doing to our overall health and wellbeing. While polypropylene has a higher heat tolerance than most plastics, not leaching as many chemicals as others, and is still approved for use by the FDA and EPA, recent research has found that some polypropylene products affected androgen hormones and caused a toxic or stress response in cells. 

So where do we go from here?

Staying plastic-free is one of my biggest priorities, but I’m not quite ready to give up on my hot cups of tea just yet. Thankfully, there are a few options out there that prove plastic isn’t a necessary evil.

Some of my favorite organic brands of tea offer plastic-free bags, an easy and convenient way to still enjoy your tea without sacrificing the planet - only you have to go looking for it. Most brands are aware of the impact, so there will be labels on the packaging to let you know it’s plastic-free. If you’re unsure, here are some of my favorite teas to get started.

Alternatively, you can look at loose leaf teas. I love this option because you can make your own blends and brews, depending on what your body is calling for, and it has the least impact on the environment. You can brew it in a teapot or in a reusable strainer, exactly how you like it! 

What tea brands can I trust?

With a lack of transparency around plastic in our teabags (I can't believe we're just discovering this), it's hard to know what readily available brands you can trust. So here are five of our favorites; some are loose-leaf, others use plastic-free teabags. Either way, you can rest easy knowing that there's no polypropylene in your delicious brew. 

  1. Numi Organic Teathis beautiful Californian company uses compostable packaging for these delicious organic teas.

  2. The Tao of Teathis is some of the most delightful teas sourced from around the world, loose-leaf, and in beautiful, refillable tins.

  3. Positively Tea Companyhand-curated specialty organic loose-leaf teas and tisanes, available in bulk sizes.

  4. Frontier Co Opthese top of the line teas are loose-leaf, high-quality, and the company is member-owned - how cool is that!

  5. Starwest Botanicalsif you like your tea by the gallon, opt for this bulk-buy and teabag-free brand with some of the best blends money can buy.

Want to discover more of our Food Matters favorite products? Check out our pantry staples, which set the tone for any healthy, wholefoods kitchen.