Not Everyone's Cup of Tea? An article by Kerry MacKay

Updated: Jan 31

Brew Blue Monday Away

Written by Kerry MacKay – The GRAB Trust

Did you know the 20th January is Brew Monday as well as Blue Monday? Championed by the Samaritans, Brew Monday is all about having a nice hot cuppa to bring people together. There’s nothing like a good conversation to help make us feel better on the most depressing day of the year, Blue Monday.

But did you also know that most teabags are not eco-friendly? Here at The GRAB Trust Beaches and Marine Litter Project, we are all about reducing waste as much as possible. So let’s take a brief look at the environmental impact of your tea.

Compared to other beverages, tea is quite environmentally friendly until we consider tea bags. An estimated 165 million teabags are used every day in the UK.Many tea companies use plastic. A recent study found a single plastic teabag releases billions of microplastic particles into a single cup of tea, much more than other foods. Microplastics are bits of plastic so small they are often invisible to the naked eye and their implications to human health are currently unknown.

Even paper teabags are not immune from criticism. To stop the tea bags bursting open in transit or in the cup, many are sealed with a strip of heat-resistant polypropylene plastic, this plastic can’t compost.

Many teabags are listed as compostable but beware, most require a special type of composting process. For example, Teapigsteabags are plastic free as they are made from a by-product of corn starch known as Soilon. Soilon requires high temperatures to compost, so should only be placed in your food waste bin provided by your local council. Most home composts are cold systems, whereas almost all council compost systems are ‘hot’ allowing the Soilon to be broken down.

So what can you do? Check your favourite tea brand’s box or website tofind out what plastic is in your teabags and how to dispose of them properly. To avoid plastic entering your home compostcut the bag open and empty the tea residue into the compost bin.If the bag is biodegradable put it in the council compost bin.

Teapigswere among the first to go completely plastic-free but others are beginning to follow including Pukka Tea and Jacksons of Piccadilly. Change to a brand that is plastic free. If your favoured brand is not plastic free, email or tweet the company to encourage them to go plastic free. If enough people do this the companies will take notice.

The safest option is to use loose leaf tea, like those supplied byVerraCraftea. ChooseFair Trade and organic to be even better to the world. You can get some lovely re-usable tea strainers so you can still brew your tea like you would with a teabag. (Top Tip: choose a tea strainer that is not plastic!)

So now you know how to enjoy an eco-friendly brew with someone to brighten the day for both of you while being environmentally conscious. If you are feeling super helpful then you can organise a fundraiser brew to raise money for the Samaritans. They have a whole fundraising kit to help you, see the link at the end of this article. However you choose to have your brew, make it a waste free one.

For more tips and advice follow the Beaches and Marine Litter Project on our Facebook page:

Samaritans fundraising kit:

Sources: Hernandez et al. (2019) Plastic Teabags Release Billions of Microparticles and Nanoparticles into Tea. Environ. Sci. Technol. 53, 21, 12300-12310.