Would you like plastic with that?

21 July 2017

I'm a huge fan of tea so I was disappointed to learn that the humble tea bag can contain plastic - yes the tea bag, not just the packaging. Plastic is used to heat seal the tea bag - most commonly in the form of polypropylene. Pyramid teabags can also be made of nylon or PET. 


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So I thought I better find out about some of the popular tea's in New Zealand....

Red Seal 

“The paper is a special filtered natural paper that has is chemical and bleach free. (You will notice the tea bags have a beige look to them).  The tea bags are heat sealed, so here are no glues, staples or other chemicals used in this process.”

 Bell Tea

"The material used to make teabags is primarily a mixture of natural cellulose fibres with the main source from the abaca plant which is a close relative of the banana family. This is used because of its long, strong fibres which also allow the tea to infuse well. There is a very small amount of food-grade polypropylene fibre used at the edges of the teabag which allows the bag to be heat-sealed."


“Our standard teabag ranges i.e. Dilmah Premium, Ceylon Green Tea and Infusions... use cellulose fibers which are free of plastic coating such as epichlorohydrin and do not using paper bleaching.

Our teabags that do not use a staple to seal the bag use a very thin film of polypropylene fibres to give the heat seal that joins the bag together. Under normal backyard composting conditions the cellulose fibres will break down, as will the tea, leaving only the very small amount of polypropylene fibres. It does take a reasonable amount of time to break down and should be a well established compost heap ideally with a good worm population. These polypropylene fibres are a foodsafe material with no proven health concerns but understandably the mention of plastics raises concerns and some choose to avoid doubt and use loose leaf tea or organic teabags.

Our outer packaging and sachets for individually wrapped teabags are not compostable. The foil wrapper is crucial in maintianing the airtight freshness so important in tea but is not biodegradable. Teabags are not recommended to discard direct into the soil. Our teabags are NOT made with food-grade nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), commonly used in the old style of pyramid style nylon bags.

Our pyramid style Exceptional range use a method derived from maize starch which is treated by an enzyme to create the compound poly-lactic acid which has a 'plastic-like' character which can be spun into fibre. The teabags are technically compostable however this relates more to commercial composting and not backyard composting so we do not advertise these as biodegradable.

Our Organic range teabags are entirely free of plastics, including the seal, string, tag and filter paper.”

Harney & Sons

"Our tea sachets are pyramid-shaped silky nylon bags that are filled with whole-leaf loose tea."


"Our tea bag paper is made of a special blend of natural abaca (a type of banana) and plant cellulose fibres. Our supply of tea bag paper is also unbleached. They are staple-free and 100% biodegradable and/or recyclable. The tea bag strings are made from 100% organic, non-GMO, un-bleached cotton."

Ti Ora

"Our Ti Ora pyramid bags are made from PLA - a biodegradable woven fabric which is a renewable resource made from corn-starch. We know that the tea bags will break down within a month in a commercial composting facility but also recognise that these are not yet widely available in NZ."


"Our teabags are not made of plastic, although they are not compostable."

Scarborough Fair (FairTrade)

"Scarborough Fair tea bags do not contain any plasticisers or similar material. Our tea bags are made using unbleached, non-heat sealed, biodegradable filter paper and are dioxin free. The tea bag (filter paper) is made from of a blend of abaca and selected cellulosic fibres (natural plant fibres)."


“The material used in Twinings Pyramid Teabag range is fully biodegradable and compostable. The material is derived from maize starch. The starch is treated by an enzyme to create the compound poly-lactic acid which has a ‘plastic’ character and is spun into filaments, but these do not contain plastic.

Our standard teabags (Heat-Seal) are used for e.g. our Earl Grey and English Breakfast, this paper is produced from a natural plant based cellulose material and contains no plastic in the fibres. However, these teabags are “heat sealed” tea bags, and so the paper also has a very thin film of polypropylene, a plastic, which enables the two layers of the tea bags to be sealed together.

The ‘String and Tag’ tea bags are sealed by crimping the paper tightly down the centre, folding and using a cotton stitch at the top. The tea bag material used in these products is predominantly made up of a natural plant based cellulose material together with an added plastic based material (acrylic co-polymer emulsion) that helps to bond the cellulose fibres together to make the paper used for making the tea bags. They also have a very thin layer of the plastic polyethylene to help seal up the sachets.”


"In our opinion the tea bag paper we use is suitable for home composting. Square “pillow” bags do have a very thin layer of polypropylene plastic to enable the bags to be sealed, but in your compost bin this will break down into teeny tiny pieces."

Madame Flavour

"Yes my tea's silky pyramids ARE biodegradable, made of renewable cornstarch not nylon. There's no staples, petrochemical glues or dyes, or bleach like the paper for tea bags. The fabric breaks down into water & carbon dioxide. This is done fastest in commercial composters that some councils use, as home systems don't have adequate ph, humidity and microbiome."


"Our T2 teabags are made out of biodegradable and compostable corn starch"


"The tea bag paper we use consists of 3 main components:

1. Abaca long fibre pulp – to provide wet strength for the tea bags.
2. Bleached hardwood and softwood pulp.
3. Thermoplastic fibres – mostly Polyethylene, some polypropylene - fibres to provide the heat seal.

There are no nylon (polyamide) fibres or epichrolohydrin. These materials meet the standards for ‘materials in contact with foods’ and are also suitable for use at above boiling temperatures."

Planet Organic

"Our tea bags are made from Manilla Hemp and are oxygen bleached. They do contain some thermo plastic sealing fibres ( polypropylene ) to enable the bags to be sealed. They are compostable."


*The solution*

Switch your tea bags for loose leaf tea. There are many great brands that offer loose leaf tea and the tea tends to taste better and is a higher quality so there's not much to lose! 


I'm on the hunt now to find completely plastic free tea - no luck so far - will keep you posted! 


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