In the UK we drink around 165 million cups of tea every day. As there are just over 65 million people living in the UK that means that we each drink around 3 cups of tea every day.
Tea first arrived in the UK in the seventeenth century. In the late eighteenth century black tea became more popular than green tea, a habit which prompted us to start splashing milk into our daily cuppas. In the nineteenth century imports of Indian tea overtook imports of Chinese tea. We brewed tea in teapots, used tea strainers to filter out the leaves, and sipped our cups of tea. Things remained unchanged from then until the mid twentieth century when a new innovation radically transformed our tea-drinking habits forever – the invention of the teabag.
Did you know that most teabags are only around 80% paper fibre? They also contain heat-resistant polypropylene. What’s that? It’s a plastic. That’s right, the majority of teabags are made with plastic and are not fully biodegradable.
A report published recently revealed that teabags produced by just about all top tea manufacturers are only between 70-80% biodegradable. As a consequence, gardeners are finding the plastic remains of teabags on their compost heaps, caused by the inclusion of heat-resistant polypropylene. The majority of the 55 billion teabags used in the UK every year are made by adding acrylic polymer emulsions to the plant based materials that the bags are made of and then applying a very thin layer of polypropylene to help glue the bags together. Polypropylene also helps teabags to retain their shape in boiling water.
If you think that’s bad, the paper portion of teabags often contain epichlorohydrin, a compound used as a pesticide. Epichlorhydrine becomes active when in contact with hot water. This pesticide is known to cause infertility, it can harm your immune system, and it causes cancer in animals. When you put plastic teabags in boiling water, toxins are released into the tea. This is why many countries have banned some plastics from being used in baby bottles. The more you drink tea made with plastic teabags, the more likely you are to experience health issues as a result.
Many tea companies use pesticides in tea agriculture. A report in 2015 found 34 different pesticides in Indian teas. If those leaves are not washed, all those pesticides go directly into your cup of tea. Tea that goes into teabags is almost never washed.
Can this get any worse? Oh yes. Did you know that most teabags are also bleached to make them look white? Teabags that have been bleached contain chemicals which go into your cup of tea when you pour boiling water over them.
One company I know of, Teekanne in Düsseldorf, Germany, produces over 80 different teas which are organically grown. The company never uses plastics in their tea bags, and they never use bleach. Their teas are of the highest quality. If you can’t source their teas in your country, you can buy them online at Amazon. Find out more about the company from their website: