Tea is one of the most popular non-alcoholic drinks after water and with more than 2/3 of the worlds population enjoying a cuppa, there has got to be something good about it. Surely that many people can't be wrong?
So it's not surprising that nutritional science is starting to back up the claims that tea is good for us. Tea contains a number of chemicals called polyphenols, in particular catechins, which act as antioxidants in the body. While more research is needed, so far the evidence is showing some positive links between drinking tea and a number of health conditions such as cardiovascular health, inflammation, bone health, alzheimers and some cancers (1,2). Green tea is much higher in antioxidants than black tea, and most of the positive results from the research is from green tea.
Also as it turns out, black tea helps with concentration, memory and brain speed (3). Which might explain why many of us (me included) reach for cuppa at that notorious 3pm slump. Both the caffeine and an amino acid called L-theanine are thought to be responsible for this benefit. How cool is that, ok maybe I'm easily impressed?
From an environmental point of view there are a number of considerations when it comes to tea. Being such a popular beverage there are issues around losing biodiversity, then there is the use of fertilisers and soil erosion. Then you need to consider how the tea is processed, distributed and discarded. Some research has shown the overall carbon footprint of tea from plant shoot to cup to vary from 200g to -6g CO2 per cup (4). Choosing an environmentally friendly and socially responsible tea can get overwhelming. You can read more about it here at the Rainforest Alliance. But for this article, I'm just going to cover one aspect of the sustainability of tea - how we dispose of it at home.
I'm a big tea drinker and I love convenience so have always used tea bags. I used to think tea bags were compostable, after all they are made from paper right? Not exactly and as it turns out, most tea bags cannot be composted at home.
While tea companies are transitioning from a plastic based tea bags, many still contain a small (2% of the total tea bag) amount of 'synthetic fibres' or plastic that can't be composted. This small amount is used to glue the tea bag so the leaves don't escape during the process of making your tea.
I contacted each company that sells tea in Australia's leading two supermarkets to see just how compostable their tea bags were. What I found really promising is that the vast majority of companies are looking into more sustainable practices and some, Nerada and Madura, are even in the process of moving to 100% natural material as we speak. The trials of these products take time but it's great to see companies responding to consumers demand for greener products. I'll certainly be putting my money behind these companies to encourage their efforts.
This table summarises what I found from tea companies (accurate as at August 2021):
Note: I didn't get a reply from Billy Tea or Queen Victoria Tea
If you're looking for the best way to sustainably dispose of your tea, here are my suggestions from best case to worse:
Loose leaf tea from a bulk food store using your own container and compost the tea leaves (see image below for a great example of a reusable option if your in Melbourne I can highly recommend Oasis)
Loose leaf tea from a supermarket or T2 - the outer cartons are still wrapped in plastic so return this plastic to RedCycle.
Home compostable tea bags as above - will also be wrapped in plastic. Return plastic to RedCycle.
Other tea bags, once used tear open and remove tea leaves to add to the compost at home and bin the bag. (Hot tip: dry the tea bag before you do this or the leaves stick to the bag). Will also be wrapped in plastic. Return plastic to RedCycle.
As for me, I'll finish using the tea bags in my cupboard and switch to loose leaf tea. Now excuse me I'm off to get a tea, I feel I need one after this post :)