Are Tea Bags Really Compostable?

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!

loose 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!

Related:
6 Plants That Are Great for Tea
Apartment Composting & What to Do With It
10 Ways to Get Plastic Out of Your Kitchen

101 comments

Maddie C.
Past Member 2 years ago

I had my own doubts about the plastic tea bags, so thanks!

Val M.
Val M.2 years ago

!!!

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado2 years ago

Paper used as tea bags?

Beth T.
Beth T.2 years ago

Hi. I realize this article is a bit old, but I have to correct one bit of information. Your article says that researchers found that some polypropylene leaches BPA. That is not correct. The researchers found other chemicals -- "quaternary ammonium biocides, and oleamide" -- NOT BPA -- leaching from polypropylene. It's very important that people understand that BPA is not the only chemical that can leach from plastics -- there are thousands -- so something labelled BPA-free does not necessarily mean safe. And tossing polypropylene into your compost is not going to add BPA, but it could add other chemicals. Please correct this article.

Frances Darcy
Frances Darcy3 years ago

I didnt know about the plastic in tea bags, will have to rethink...maybe use loose tea.

Karin J.
Karin J.3 years ago

didn´t know that - thanks!

Mac C.
mac C.3 years ago

update: I checked my tea bag cartons and Numi says theirs are natural biodegradable, not GMO corn or plastic. Choice Organic Teas says they use unbleached, natural fiber tea bags and are fully biodegradable. I truly hope other tea companies are responsible. I love loose tea but since moving to my new town, it's hard to find. Thanks again.

Mac C.
mac C.3 years ago

I compost tea bags, I won't any longer. I guess I will open the bag and put the tea in a tea strainer. I have tried hard to avoid BPA for myself and my family, now this. Thanks for the heads up.

Sailor H.
Past Member 3 years ago

Plastic in teabags... plastic used in paper receipts... this stuff is everywhere!

Suz F.
Suz F.3 years ago

...wow--this stuff called plastic is hiding just about every where = / thanks for the information Becky-keep this coming!!...