Plastic tea

There are a number of folks currently taking part in ‘Plastic Free July’  – a challenge to reject single use plastics for a month. You can read about how people are getting on on various blogs, but the one I am particularly following is Westywrites. And it was through her blog that I discovered my teabags have plastic in them – and yours almost certainly do too!

My favorite teabags

My favorite teabags

I know that some of you (Kate Chiconi) are tea purists and only use leaves, but I like the convenience of a tea bag and I find them easier to deal with when it comes to collecting them for composting. I thought I was safe buying Clipper Organic Teabags made of unbleached paper. Sadly I was wrong… visiting their website I discovered that the two halves of the bag are stuck together with plastic. At least they are open about it and I didn’t have to ask, as seems to be the case with most companies. Anyway, Westy has been encouraging her readers to write to companies and highlight their concerns about single use plastics, so yesterday I e-mailed Clipper:

Dear Clipper
On your ‘our story’ web page you publish the following statement:
“Always a pure, natural product – there isn’t a single artificial ingredient in any of our products.”
However, in your FAQs, I discover that
‘Square “pillow” bags do have a very thin layer of polypropylene plastic’.
Oh, I’m so disappointed! As someone who is trying to live more sustainably, I want to eliminate as much single-use plastic from my life as possible. I love your organic tea bags, but feel that I’m going to have to revert to loose tea because of the presence of this plastic. Yes, I know it’s a small amount, but it’s still there and it all adds up.
Please, please could you consider ways of making tea bags without the plastic? I know it would make you very popular with customers like me who care deeply about the environment and the products we buy.
Many thanks
Dr Jan Martin

And I quickly received a reply:

Dear Dr. Martin,
Thank you for contacting us here at Clipper – it is lovely to hear from you!
With regards to your concerns about their being plastic within tea bags we can confirm that certain types of tea bags do contain polymer fibres. Standard square or round tea bags which are the most common in the UK market will all contain a type of polymer fibre as they are made using heat-sealable filter paper. The tea bag filter paper requires a means of sealing the two layers of paper together as paper will not stick to paper and glue is not used. The filter paper Clipper uses for this type of tea bag contains polypropylene to provide the heat-seal function. The filter paper is food grade for its intended purpose and meets all relevant UK and EU Regulations.
The filter paper used to produce tea bags with the string and tag attached does not need to be heat-sealable, as it is closed differently, and therefore does not contain any polymer fibres/plastic content.
In terms of Clipper packaging in general we can confirm that we do not use PLA material (the biodegradable material used for some pyramid bags and other plastic packaging) as it is derived from corn which may be from GM sources.
Best regards

Hayley Butler
Consumer Care

Is it time to ditch the bags?

Is it time to ditch the bags?

Well, it’s disappointing, but at least they responded. However, perhaps if lots of people wrote to them (and other companies that make teabags) they might start to take notice. So, I’d like to ask you to write a single e-mail, letter or tweet to the company who make your teabags and ask them whether they use plastic in them and, if they do, to stop it!

If you want to join me, the e-mail for Clipper is:

Leave a comment


  1. I use a mix of tea bags and loose tea. But I didn’t know that there was plastic in the bags – fairly annoyed about that. I may have to ditch the bags…

  2. Eeuw! Who knew? And now I’m busy patting myself on the back for using loose tea. It’s really not that hard to recycle if you use one of those metal cyclindrical infuser jobbies in the teapot. The main thing I like about leaf tea is that it’s not dust, the sweepings from the bottom of the bin. The flavour’s so much better. Good luck with your campaign!

  3. Kate Hamilton

     /  July 22, 2014

    (seems like this one is provoking a Kate-heavy response…). Tea leaves, all the way. Get yourself a lovely little tea pot, develop a neat little swishing motion + sieve ritual to retrieve soggy leaves from the pot afterwards (I absolutely know you are up to this), and learn to warn people about the gunk in the bottom of their mugs (referred to in my family as ‘bleaugh’) unless you can be bothered to strain every last cup, which is admittedly the dainty thing to do. It tastes so much better! Problem = solution + a bonus!! xx

    • I wonder what the collective noun for Kates is? Possibly a tea party judging by the responses!
      I don’t like the gunk, so I think a fine-mesh infuser is the way to go! I’m quite drawn to the swishing, though.
      However, lots of folks will continue to use bags, so I think putting pressure on the manufacturers is still a good idea.

  4. I did not know that! It is surprising to me – though it should not be given the state of the world – that there is plastic in organic tea bags. I don’t drink tea very often at all, but do keep some tea bags in the house for visitors who like their ‘cuppa’. I use loose leaf green teas for making kombucha and jun ……….. I do have some herbal teas in bags and am guessing they will also contain plastic. Time to take a look at the whole ‘teabag’ concept I guess. Most enlightening post Ms Snail, many thanks 🙂

  5. At least the tagged bags are free of plastics, that’s the gist of that email isn’t it? Can’t you swap to the tagged bags? Loose tea is SO expensive now! You would think that it would be cheaper but it seems that as soon as you take something out of the mainstream it loses its commercial edge and suddenly when competition is eliminated you end up with an elevated price. It probably reflects the true cost of the product but some of us tea addicts who are also penniless students are finding it difficult to reconcile…

    • The trouble is that the tagged bags use bleached paper! I think I have to go down the route of an infuser… grumble, grumble

      • And it costs a bomb to buy the loose tea 😦

        • Although we do have a shop locally where I can buy it completely free of packaging if I remember to take my own container. I will have to do a price comparison… I never normally buy loose tea so I have no idea.

          • Here it is MUCH more expensive but you are living in “The Old Country” where tea is a way of life and pretty much compulsory so I guess there would be some kind of subsidy 😉

          • There’s civil unrest here if we don’t get our tea! We’re much less bothered about chemicals sprayed on our food, corrupt politicians and huge spending on weapons.

  6. But you can add water to your old tea leaves and get at least one more pot out of them While we are no the subject of sneaky plastics, you might want to check out the plastic in your toothaste

    • Oh sigh! Sadly the link to the list of toothpastes that actually contain the plastic doesn’t work, but even so I’m depressed that any of them do… and here was me fretting about the pros and cons of flouride… at least they list that in the ingredients!
      For the time being, however, I will continue my quest for plastic-free sunflower and pumpkin seeds… I’ve run out of the ones I grew myself.

  7. Ooh, that’s surprising and very frustrating! I buy loose-leaf tea when I can, but my happy organic hippy sleepy tea comes in pillow bags, which the company says is to prevent the use of staples with strung bags, so maybe they’re plastic free? I will write to them and ask.

    Fine mesh strainer insert teapots are the way to go. You can easily remove the mesh when the tea is brewed to your taste and leave it for re-brew or bang it out into the compost. At work I use a tong-style infuser that just sits in the cup to brew, then I leave it drain, and again really easy to bang out the leaves and wipe clean. Much less mess than my coffee plunger!

    (Not going to worry about my Peruvian tea bags though. Can’t let myself think too much about what I’m eating and the waste I’m creating here as it’s all too depressing. Reminds me, better go take the recycling to the depot up the street, else the cleaning lady will bin the lot tomorrow.

    • I think you have enough to worry about in Peru without plastic in your teabags!
      As for coffee, we grind our own beans (bought loose and weighed straight into our own containers) and then I filter it through thick cotton fabric in a cone. We have several cotton squares that get scraped straight onto the garden/compost and then rinsed out. Occasionally they get a more thorough washing and eventually (after a few years) they go on the compost heap themselves. The thing is that we only drink coffee once a day generally, so it doesn’t seem like too much fuss… with tea, though, any operation is going to be repeated many times a day… I guess we just need to get used to it being ‘normal’ and we’ll no longer think about it 🙂

  8. Great article. Thanks! I love that you wrote to the company – that’s so important. It’s exactly the kind of quest we write on for everyone to do (if they choose to). Do you mind if I borrow some of the words from your letter when I write up the quest?

  9. I’m still scandalised by this tea bag thing! I use loose leaf tea, but I have some teabags for guests for tea I don’t drink. I won’t be doing that anymore! The thing with those tagged bags, they are usually wrapped in plastic on the outside!

    PS I use loose leaf green (sencha and kukicha) and camomile, and I always reuse the leaves at least 3 times. Apparently the Chinese (who know a thing or two about tea) say the second or third cup can be the best, and each cup brings out different flavours. Which sounds much better than saying I just do it to be cheap! : )

    • We went to China a few years ago and visited a tea house where we were told about the flavours that develop and the significance of the different cups from the pot… I just wish I could remember it all.

  10. I’m going to go look at my tea bags now! I had no idea – talk about uninformed consumer!

  11. Who knew!? Thanks for the additional information. Now I must go see if my new unbleached bags have plastic too. From what you say, I’ll bet they do. 😦

  12. I didn’t write then – but I have now! The bags with a string and a tag still have a sealed edge – so how is that sealed I wonder? So much to think about!

    • I think some of the ones with a string are held together with a staple. I never got an answer from Jacksons of Piccadilly, who The Guardian said made plastic-free teabags.. I suspect that means they didn’t have good news to impart.

      • Gosh – what a subject – so many things to discover about the humble cuppa. I love the research you do. I’m going to see if Pukka use plastic and they use a folded and stapled bag, but there is one bonded seam.

        • it really is a can of worms. I came to the conclusion that loose tea was the only answer… and herbs from the garden for the herbal varieties.

          • I agree, I’m going to bite the bullet and get an infuser, as you have suggested – it is just such a horrid feeling knowing there is so much plastic in each cup of teabag tea

  1. Day 25: Plastic Free July 2014 | westywrites
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  5. The end is nigh… | The Snail of Happiness
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