Many supermarket tea bags contain traces of plastic - how to check your brand

As consumers become more and more aware of the harm caused to the environment by plastic, particularly microplastics that end up in the sea, people are increasingly looking to cut out plastic from as much of their shopping as possible.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Tea bags might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to plastic pollution, but traditionally, most tea bags are made using trace amounts of plastic to seal the bags.

Here’s a list of the UK’s most popular tea brands and whether they’re biodegradable.

Abel & Cole - Biodegradable

Abel & Cole’s English Breakfast tea range is organic and comes in an unbleached soilon tea bag. These tea bags are plastic free, the inner packaging is compostable and the outer packaging is recyclable too.

Clipper - Biodegradable

Clipper’s brand ethos is that it is “fiercely committed to being organic” and it claims “none of our products contain anything artificial and they never will”.

What that means for their tea is unbleached tea bags that are totally plastic-free, as well as recyclable packaging.

Co-Op - Biodegradable

Co-op’s own-brand 99 tea range is developed without plastic, having worked with its suppliers Typhoo and Ahlstrom-Munksjo to find eco-friendly alternatives.

Co-op Food’s chief executive Jo Whitfield said: “Many tea drinkers are blissfully unaware that the teabag from their daily cuppa is sealed using plastic.

“Even though it’s a relatively small amount, when you consider the six billion cups of tea that are brewed up every year in the UK, we are looking at around 150 tonnes of polypropylene”.

Lidl - Not biodegradable (but almost)

According to a spokesperson for Lidl, the vast majority of tea bags the company sells are biodegradable “with just 1-2% of non-biodegradable polymers present in our round tea bags, which is used to help create the seal”

While the company notes these can still be recycled in home compost bins or added to food waste collections, it says it is working with suppliers to “explore alternative materials that can be used instead of these polymers”.

PG Tips - Biodegradable

PG tips became the first major tea company to switch to totally plastic free manufacturing processes earlier this year, meaning its tea bags are now fully biodegradable.

The firm also changed its packaging materials to plant-based, making the whole product recyclable.

Pukka - Biodegradable

Pukka’s range of tea bags are fully biodegradable, and come in recyclable packaging.

A message on Pukka’s website says: “Our tea bags are staple-free and stitched together with 100 per cent organic, non-GMO cotton, instead of heat sealed using plastic.”

Teapigs - Biodegradable

The tea bags - or tea temples as the firm calls them - manufactured by Teapigs are made from cornstarch and paper.

According to its website “everything is sealed with heat so no glue!” which means they are fully biodegradable.

Tetley - Not biodegradable (but almost)

Tetley claims its tea bags are “99 per cent biodegradable,” meaning they do contain a small amount of plastic.

A message on its website says: “We’ve worked hard to ensure that our tea bags are 99 per cent biodegradable.

“However, as a result of the manufacturing process, Tetley tea bags do contain a very small amount of plastic to ensure the bags remain closed for you to enjoy your cup of tea”

Twinnings - Mixed

Twinnings’ loose leaf pyramid tea bags do not contain plastic, although their “heat-sealed” and “string and tag” ranges do, meaning those aren’t biodegradable.

Waitrose - Not biodegradable (but almost)

According to the product description for Waitrose’s Duchy tea bags, the case and carton of the product are recyclable but the bag and sachet are not recyclable, with the sachet containing polyethylene.

Yorkshire Tea - Not fully biodegradable (yet)

According to its website, Yorkshire Tea is in the process of changing its product in order to remove all plastic.

The company’s most recent update said that around 20 per cent of their tea bags are now plastic free, and it expects to have made the full changeover by the end of 2021.