truth about teabags

Are teabags compostable?

There has been quite a bit of press around teabags and their compostability lately. Until recently, most of us thought (myself included) that tea bags were fully compostable. Then, we discover that most brands of teabag contained plastic. This plastic could be in the ‘bag’ part of the tea bag, in the glue that seals the bag together or it could even be in both.

No one loves a cuppa more than the Irish. In fact, we drink more tea per capita than any other country in the world! It goes without saying that if all these teabags are going into the brown bin or home compost then they are certainly contributing to the problem of micro-plastics and entering into our food chain.

Proof that teabags don’t break down

I experienced this problem first hand a couple of months ago when I was spreading compost at home. We have a composter called a Hotbin. It can be used for both garden and food waste (cooked and raw). It averages at 60 degrees Celsius, the same temperature at an industrial composting facility. This means that the compost is sterilised.

When I emptied the Hotbin after one year there were no food remnants aside from egg shells and the odd bone. There were however, lots and lots of teabags remnants. None and I repeat none of the tea bags had broken down. I had to sieve through the compost to remove them. I wish I had known then what I know now as it would have saved my considerable time and annoyance.

What is the solution?

For about 6 months now we have been using a tea strainer instead of teabags. It’s quick, convenient and plastic free. As for any teabags that come into the house, we now break them, empty the contents into our Obeo and bin the bag! It is a messy job but it beats sieving through my compost!

The other option is to avoid teabags that contain plastic. There are brands that sell fully compostable teabags, these include Pukka, Java Republic and Nikki’s Tea, to name a few. These are the more premium tea brands so if you an tea addict like myself you might opt for loose leaf tea!

What else do we need to look out for?

It’s not just teabags that have caught us off guard in terms of composting. The little stickers on our bananas, apples and oranges are also made from plastic and must be removed before composting.

Paper is compostable but it is important to make sure that it is pure paper and hasn’t been laminated with a plastic sheet. One easy test is to rip the paper, the plastic isn’t easy to tear and so you will see it. Laminated paper should go into the recycling bin and not the compost.

The good news is that Ireland’s favourite tea company Barry’s are working on a new plastic-free teabag. In the meantime I’m going to stick to tea leaves.

If you are looking for more general information on composting check out our website.

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