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Tea Bags and Tear Drops

Here’s something you can try at home, and it doesn’t cost the earth (or the sea)

Something in the news today vividly made me recall an incident a few years ago, which changed my way of life.

I was digging in the garden, at much the same time as this (Spring). Or to be more precise, I was digging out the home-produced compost I’d been mulching down for the previous couple of years, and chucking it onto the raspberry patch. One thing I couldn’t understand was that every second forkful or so, a tatty tea bag could be seen, impaled on one of the tines. I kept pulling them off and chucking into the waste bucket, but was puzzled and also slightly annoyed that the bags hadn’t decomposed. What on earth was going on? I forgot about the incident, but a few months later, when out walking with a gardening friend, I mentioned the fact that my compost seemed to be full of discarded tea bags, several years after I’d put them out to rot.

“Ah, yes me ol’ China plate,” (he is from South London, not famous for its composting facilities, but he certainly knows his stuff) “it’s because the tea bags have plastic in them.”

What?! It turned out that yes, most tea bags have been made with paper infused with plastic, to keep the shape. Only those tea bags made with natural fibres, for example the one whose name rhymes with a rude word for not a very nice person, don’t contain microplastics. The result is plastic in your compost, plastic in the sea (see ) and now scientists have discovered vast deposits of microplastic on the ocean floor, no doubt clogging up the gut systems of demersal fish (bottom dwellers) and consequently in our plaice and chips .

The good news is that we can do something about it. In the Philippines, we are working with farmers associations to increase the amount of abaca (Manila hemp) produced. Abaca is the natural fibre used to make environmentally tea bags, and which used to be used before the need for triangle-shaped tea bags was made obvious to us all (or not). So supporting us to increase production could be one step (click here to access our website on abaca farming and how to help). Secondly, think about switching to natural fibre tea bag brands (or loose tea); there is at least one major tea retailer looking at the ways they can shift to non-microplastic tea bags, and others will take note if enough of us switch our buying patterns. Tea up, rather than tear up.

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