Storm in a Teabag - the search for a plastic-free cuppa
So, since several of the first few days of my step-by-step plastic weaning 'method' involve the instruction "grab a cuppa and...", I thought addressing the plastic in tea and coffee packaging might be a good plan for day 7, to tidily wrap up the first week. "This should be easy" I thought as I set about seeking out plastic-free sources of beverages that surely are ubiquitous in most UK, nay, worldwide households.
A Pandora's Box if ever there was one.
Putting plastic-free coffee aside for now, the first shock was that the current stash of Clipper organic teabags I was finishing off not only had plastic hidden inside the box (an unwelcome silvery surprise when I opened it at home), but actually had plastic secretly woven in to the unbleached teabags themselves! As do many of the main brands of everyday tea, and most of the supermarkets' own ones too. Apparently this subject is terribly trendy right now, as the very day that I started my search PG Tips joined the Co-op in announcing that they will be removing the plastic from their teabags forthwith. Apparently Joe Public is not very comfortable with the idea of drinking plastic-encased tea, who would have imagined that? Anyway the subject of plastic in common garden teabags has been well covered by Moral Fibres and Huffington Post UK, so I don't need to go into it further here, save to summarise that there is, as of March 2018, no major budget brand, and certainly no commonly found organic brand that is plastic-free in both teabag and packaging. (It is worth pointing out that Teapigs and the Bluebird Tea Co. do both offer completely plastic-free teabags/packaging which can be found on supermarket shelves. But sadly they are not organic.)
But what of 'artisanal' tea companies? Surely there must be a plastic-free, curly-moustachioed, organic purveyor of the mahogany nectar in this quaint land? I set about seeking them out, and to simplify the quest, concentrated my efforts on English Breakfast-type builders brew in teabags as the goal. Many, many emails and a stack of online contact forms later I have concluded that, while organic tea, plastic-free teabags and plastic free packaging are all offered by various producers in various formats, there is no single UK company that I have yet found that has combined all three elements together in a single product, and certainly none offering a value brand. A couple of British companies offered to send out their teabags 'naked' if requested, which could be a temporary stop gap, and probably 80% of all contacted said they were actively seeking plastic-free alternatives, cost, quality and resource dependent. But sadly, no easy go-to place for organic, totally plastic-free tea within these shores. One French company, two Irish ones and three American enterprises (one with a British 'arm') seemed to have what I sought, so I ordered samples of those I could source in the UK to test their plastic-free pledges, and of course taste the tea - tough but someones gotta do it.
(Subplot: I became briefly sidelined by a statement put forward by two of the companies I contacted, about how they had to revert to nylon teabags after the Soil Association had stated they couldn't continue to use the corn starch pyramid bags - the corn being potentially GM - and keep their organic status. This confused me a bit as there are definitely companies out there offering organic tea in biodegradable plant-based pyramid bags. But picking apart this conundrum is a subject for another day and possibly someone else's blog...)
Back to question in hand, and the responses to my querying are illustrated in the following table:
I must add as a disclaimer that this table is what I understand to be the plastic-free/plastic-using status of each company, taken from what was explained to me via email. If there are any errors or misinterpretations, please contact me; I will be happy to correct them.
Those highlighted in yellow (with the exception of Two Leaves and a Bud tea, which I couldn't source) are now winging their way here, with the keenest already started to arrive, rattling around in their cardboard postal boxes as they hit the mat. Of all the things that might keep me up at night, my plastic consumption for this 'tea-search' is not one of them. I can't however say the same for the impact on my pocket (artisanal tea cannot be described as 'budget'), nor the extra caffeine consumption that has been a by-product of all the samplings; impossible to resist now that I seem to be surrounded by the very best of the stuff.
The grand conclusions of this unexpectedly time-consuming challenge must necessarily be the subject of an upcoming blog post, once all the teas have arrived, the last clarifications have been made with the companies and a group of discerning individuals have been gathered to drink tea and give their verdicts. For now though, is it that time? Off to boil the kettle...