Too late for me

Long-time readers will recall my struggle to give up teabags because of the plastic they contained. Before I made the switch to loose leaf tea, I tried in vain to persuade Clipper, the company whose teabags I used to buy, to change their product. I wrote to them in 2014…

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 they wrote back…

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

Now, fast forward to 2017 and David Attenborough’s second Blue Planet series on the BBC highlights the devastating effect of plastic pollution in the oceans. More customers start calling for plastic no longer to be used in (amongst other things) tea bags. More customers demand change…

So I contacted them again… more publicly and more bluntly this time, using Twitter:2018-04-27 (1)and their response was rather different:

2018-04-27 (2)

What a difference a few years makes!

See? The Snail of Happiness – ahead of the game!

Sadly for Clipper, they are too late – my transfer to loose tea is complete and I won’t go back.

IMGP5103

byebye bags

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29 Comments

  1. We will get there in the end Mrs Snail! I have been banging on about the environment and recycling etc since the early 1970s when I was a teenager and I was considered very weird – “If the fool would persist in HER folly – SHE would become wise!”
    Hurray for us! We must continue to send out those ripples in the pond. xx

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  2. Loose leaf tea all the way for us, too – it’s no extra hassle with a built-in tea strainer in the teapot. I would swear it tastes better, too, because the movement isn’t hampered by the tea bag. Shame they didn’t listen to the consumer – I wonder how many customers they lost as a result?

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    • Now we’ve got used to loose tea and sorted out a pot with an infuser, we simply don’t want to go back to bags – plastic or not. I can only assume that their ethical stance only goes as far as the superficial, until it’s clear there are going to be financial implications.

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  3. You were there first…

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  4. I love the way Clipper essentially said nothing in their reply to you!

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  5. Hurrah for snails I say, they have their way in the end. Just like the tortoise, they win the race.

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  6. Well done Snails! Like you I use loose tea at home although I admit to taking tea bags very occasionally when I am going on a course somewhere and know that what will be offered is supermarket tea bags and hot water! And not just for ethical reasons – cheap supermarket tea bag tea is undrinkable! Like you I am dismayed to find that some ‘ethical’ products are just greenwashed with a good line in PR that says nothing or ‘you should see how bad the others are’ instead of doing a really ethical job.

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  7. Ah, the PR spin hogwash of the response to your letter. Many words to essentially say yes, you are correct and no, we aren’t changing at the present time. What I like to see is that when enough people vote with their wallets, change happens. I’m tired of not being able to purchase cucumbers because they all come packed in plastic wrap – I really like cucumber!

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  8. Murtagh's Meadow

     /  April 27, 2018

    Ahead of the game indeed. Well done though!

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  9. They should be grateful to you for making them aware of the issue early, before the tidal wave of anti-plastic feeling really hit. They had an opportunity to be early adopters and pioneers, and they lost out…

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  10. It would have been much better if they had listened to you those years ago. But excellent news that they are (eventually) taking steps to remove the plastic. You continue to inspire me to look at what plastic comes into our house.
    We only use leaf tea, so I have been rather smug when you write about your investigations. But it just struck me that I do have herbal teas in teabags, which I throw into the compost. I wonder if they use plastic as sealants. Hmmm, now I will have to do some investigation of my own!
    We have a recycling crisis in Australia because China is no longer taking the recycling from other countries. Councils are frantically working out what they can now do with the stuff they collect from kerbside collections. There is a fear that it will have to go to landfill. Has China’s refusal to take the waste effected Britain too? It’s another stark reminder that it is not good enough to think “It can go into the recycling bin” and think no more about it. Which often I had been doing. Instead we have to think about how we are responsible for what comes into the house.
    (I can feel a blog post of my own coming on!!)

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  11. Wow interesting and educational read . Thank you !

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  12. Do you know that a number of tea producers would not sell the tea in tea bags any other way as it i toooo dusty to be sold as loose tea. basically loose tea is better quality and I have that on very good authority so…….Don’t know why I use bag tea in the shop?!!!! Doh sometime we just need prompting to do things they why we know we want to…. Ta

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  13. It’s interesting that one of the teas I drink now and then claim to be more eco-friendly (eco-friendlier?) because their bags don’t have “the waste” of a string. However, the edges of two pieces of filter paper are sealed. I’m unsure if it is plastic, but now I know it likely is. Guess those biodegradable strings don’t seem so awful after all.

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  14. I’ve been composting for years and was always a bit confused by the remains from tea bags. Now i understand why there are remains, and like you moved to loose tea. The quality of my cuppa has rocketed……
    Well done for your pioneering contact with Clipped. Shame companies only respond when it’s clear to consumers that they could do better

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  15. Yes, too late for me too. I was shocked when I began finding tea-bag skeletons in my compost. So I stopped buying tea bags and am now very happily back to using loose tea. I take my own container to the market stall where I buy it, so no extra packaging either. I use redbush tea, to which I add some spices (usually cardamon, cinnamon and clove), and the batch I mix each morning lasts me the whole day through. Savings all round!

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    • I’ve never thought of adding spices to my redbush tea… I might give that a go. I try to take my own container to buy all sorts of things these days. Gradually shopkeepers seem to be getting used to the idea.

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