The humble teabag: maybe not so innocent?

The humble teabag: maybe not so innocent?

I’ve always used teabags. I like their convenience. That’s the thing, though. Convenience is a word that I’ve come to be suspicious of. After all, convenience is what created the plastic pollution problem that we have today. In particular, convenience foods and all its unnecessary plastic packaging. Like pre-peeled bananas on Styrofoam trays and cling wrapped with more plastic to save us all the ‘hassle’ of peeling them. (Think I’m joking?! Check out the Time magazine article about it here.)

I was very pleased when I found out that Twining teabags do not come in a cellophane wrapped box, nor do they come with that plastic-disguised-as-foil inner packaging inside the box. Most other brands have one (or both) of these. Even those ‘silk’ teabags are actually made of plastic. But Twinings offer me plastic-free teabags, hurrah!

I’d been using these plastic free teabags for a while, and I noticed that the thread is held together by a tiny metal staple. Have you ever noticed that? My box of 100 teabags has 100 staples. How are they stapled together? Is there a person sitting in a dark room somewhere stapling teabags together? Has someone invented a machine that can staple the stringy bit to the tea bag with no physical labour required?

Let’s think about this. Metal comes out of the ground. It’s mined. It’s then got to be made into a staple. It’s got to be transported to the teabag factory. Then, somehow, it’s got to be attached to the teabag along with the stringy bit. And all of this occurs to save me the inconvenience of having to remove the teabag from my cup with a spoon. Is that not a tiny bit ridiculous?

Before you point out that other teabag brands do not have staples, or even strings, whilst I know that’s true, I am yet to find any that don’t have plastic cellophane packaging, or plastic ‘foil’ wrapping, or some other unnecessary packaging.

There’s a simple solution of course. Switch to loose leaf tea.


teajpgOver the last few months I’ve slowly been using up my teabag stash, and replacing them with loose leaf tea. The other great thing about this is that loose leaf tea tastes far better. There are a number of grades of tea and the lowest is called dust (or fannings) – it’s this stuff that usually ends up in teabags. If you buy loose leaf tea you’re buying a better quality product.

Switching from teabags to loose leaf tea may not save the planet, but it reduces packaging, prevents plastic-rage (when you get home to discover that the item you were so sure was plastic-free was hiding it all along), and makes a far better brew. What’s not to love?

25 Responses to The humble teabag: maybe not so innocent?

  1. Yes, exactly what I’m doing :D Though the tea bags I mostly have look like this (brand: Pickwick). No staples, but a piece of paper glued to the paper at the end of the string. The Pickwick tea boxes are wrapped in plastic, but the teabags inside don’t have plastic.

  2. Love this! I too am going through a similar journey with tea. Even some of the loose leaf I have bought has come in plastic packaging! What do you use to brew your loose leaf tea? I have a small tea pot, and a small ball on a chain but I’m still getting used to using them.

    • I have exactly the same, a small teapot and a ball and chain thingy. I’m using the teapot at the moment, but trying to figure how much tea to use after being used to teabags is a little tricky! I always reused my green teabags as I like my tea weak – so I’m doing the same thing with the loose leaf stuff. Is that bad?!

      • i bought a little glass teapot that has no metal or any other metal in it it has its own infuser in it so you just put what you want in it loose tea flavoured tea not a teabag I also cut open twinings tea bags and put them in the glass teapot and it taste lovely you can also buy glass kettles Amazon I got mine hope it is of some help?

  3. OH yes, I’m still on the tea bag convenience route (and I do begroan the cleaning of the tea staining ball). And I too worry about the staple, should I recycle the whole Twinings (Earl Grey) tea bag. So they end up in the trash, which I hate too!

    • I give my teabags to my worms (in the worm farm) so no doubt there’ll be a bunch of staples left in the soil! The ball thingy is a pain to clean, yes. I’m using a teapot but I end up re-using the tea leaves a few times to cut back on the hassle of washing it up – I’m sure that’s not proper tea-drinking etiquette!

      • I glad to hear I’m not the only one who things it’s a pain. I commend your reuse of tea leaves! When I was studying, I used to reuse tea bags, no cause I was poor as much as the quantity I went through, it seemed to make sense!

  4. Check out a tea company named Positiffitea. My understanding is that their products are hand-blended, fully organic, fair-trade. etc. They mainly sell loose leaf tea, but also offer optionally hand-bagged (that’s right… they bag them by hand and they don’t grind the tea leafs first) teas for those of you looking for the convenience. Just thought I’d pass the info on.

    • Tea bags make me mad! first it was this, and then it was finding out that they’re made out of plastic, not paper! Now I try to stick to loose leaf tea. I can get quite a few types from the bulk bin stores. Haven’t heard of McIvers – will look out for it!

  5. Twinings tea bags now come without staples and are made without plastic. I thought Twinings completely phased out the use of staples in 2011, yet I see the original post was made in 2013? Is everyone drinking old tea, or do they only make biodegradable teabags for the United States?

    • Hi Mark, thanks for your comment! I’ve tracked down some Twinings teabags at work and can confirm they no longer have staples! This picture is an actual tea bag of mine purchased in 2013 in Australia – maybe they were slower to change!

      Regarding the fabric the teabag is made from, I can’t find any up-to-date info. I think I’ll have to write to them! I’ve seen an article stating that the string is made of plastic, and old articles that say the bags have a plastic polymer woven through.

      I also wonder how much it varies from country to country… Twinings teabags and packaging look completely different in the UK and Australia, so maybe the materials are different too?

  6. I’ve recently become a tea-drinker, but all the loose leaf tea I’ve acquired so far comes from T2 so it’s packed in plastic/cellophane bags. Where do you source your plastic/packaging-free loose leaf tea?

    • I’m not a fan of T2 – they add a lot of “flavourings” to their tea, and they don’t sell in bulk!!! Lots of local grocery / health stores sell tea. In Fremantle I go to Manna, of Kakulas for herbal tea, and Liquorice in Claremont / Floreat has a great selection of fancy teas! : )

      • Yes I think T2 is sort of like the RTDs of the tea world – very sweet and easy to get started on but not something you’d want to keep drinking the rest of your life. I’ll see what I can find in the way of bulk teas here in Auckland.

  7. Im not crazy about the staple in the tea bag. I buy celestial seasonings which dont have staples. They have a nice inner lining that keeps the tea fresh. Loose leaf is too much of a hassle.

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