Composting your tea bags seems like a no-brainer, right? It’s a paper wrapper, a fabric string, and a bunch of damp leaves – seems perfect for the compost bin. The trouble with tea bags is that there’s plastic worked into that paper. So, should you still toss your tea bags in the compost bin?
Why is there plastic in my tea bag?
Using plastic mesh in tea bags is an industry-wide practice, according to a 2010 survey that Which? Gardening conducted among major tea manufacturers. Which? investigated the tea bag issue after several readers wrote in saying that the tea bags in their compost bins weren’t breaking down completely.
The plastic mesh is polypropylene, and like other plastics it takes hundreds of years to break down. The purpose of the polypropylene mesh is to heat-seal the tea bags during manufacturing.
For paper bags that do leave a plastic mesh in the bin, Which? recommends raking those out of the compost and discarding them when you’re getting ready to use it.
Is it safe?
As with any plastic that touches food or beverages, there’s also the question of that material leaching chemicals. The rule of thumb with plastic is that heating it up makes it more likely to leach, which seems a little bit worrisome, since tea bags are meant to sit in boiling water for several minutes. In 2008, researchers found that some polypropylene leaches BPA.
Related Reading: 7 Ways to Avoid Toxic BPA
If you’re using your compost on a food garden, you’ll want to weigh the risk of leaching BPA into your compost versus the impact of sending your tea bags to the landfill.
On the next page, check out some tips about how to brew plastic free tea!
Brewing Plastic Free Tea
Some of the stitched fabric tea bags that you see on some fancier bagged tea are biodegradable and shouldn’t leave any plastic behind, but some of these are made from plastic, so use your judgement. If you’re going to drink bagged tea and don’t want to risk the plastic, the stitched fabric or paper bags are the most convenient option, though these teas tend to be pricier.
If you want to be totally certain that your tea isn’t bagged in plastic, loose tea is your best bet. Invest in a good metal tea strainer, and brew away! You can dump the grounds right from the strainer into your compost with no extra waste to worry about.
You can also make your own tea bags pretty easily. Spend some time bagging up your loose tea, so when you’re ready to brew it’s just as convenient as store-bought bagged tea. Just layer up a couple of pieces of cheese cloth, put your loose tea inside, and tie off with twine. Voila! DIY compostable tea bags!
The bonus to choosing loose tea? It’s often cheaper than the bagged sort. A double win!