Teabags and environment: why are they a problem and what you can do

    30 Sep 2021

    A tea bag is part of the daily reality of millions of people. Bay, wait for 1 minute, and everything is done. But how safe is it to use? What material is it made of? What kind of paper does not soak in water? It turns out that there can be a lot of questions about such an elementary thing as a teabag. Let’s check the answers thankfully to Rubryka.

    Excursion to history

    In the early twentieth century, Thomas Salver packaged tea samples for convenience in silk bags, and buyers decided that they should be immersed in a cup. This idea was quickly turned into technology. Today, tea bags are made of filter paper or food nylon mesh. The most common are single-chamber, double-chamber paper bags, and pyramids.

    The right filter paper is made of natural abaca fibers, this material is entirely organic, but it is a valuable raw material. In an effort to reduce costs, manufacturers are trying to replace abaca fibers as much as possible. Therefore, the following composition is usually found: natural wood fiber (65-75%), thermoplastic fiber (15-23%), abaca fiber (10%). This material is no longer organic. This means that throwing such a bag in the compost is not desirable. It is challenging and expensive to process because it consists of mixed materials. To date, only one British company PG Tip has decided to recycle them.

    And what about the production process?

    A tremendous amount of wood is used to produce filter paper. Active felling of trees depletes natural resources and harms the environment. This bag decomposes for several decades, but the remnants of microplastics remain for several hundred years. Scientists have not yet reached a unanimous conclusion on how microplastics affect the environment. The WHO notes that there is currently no serious threat. However, studies on Daphnia crustaceans have shown the opposite.

    Some manufacturers create a line of tea in plastic mesh (nylon) bags – pyramids. Two-chamber tea bags are the most popular among Ukrainians, but this type is also often found on store shelves. Nylon is made of polyamide – a synthetic plastic based on polymers. This material is helpful for sewing clothes but is hardly entirely safe for food production.

    The bags are fastened using heat treatment (for this, the inner surface of the filter paper contains thermoplastic fiber), using glue, a metal clip; some “elite” manufacturers sew with thread. To preserve the aroma, protect it from moisture and light, many companies additionally pack each bag in a separate envelope made of paper or foil plastic; the envelopes are packed in a cardboard box and the box in cellophane.

    Microplastic is closer than it seems

    The research of Canadian scientists received a broad resonance. Researchers at McGill University have found that microplastic particles get into the cup when teabags are brewed.

    Microplastic is already inside us: where and what it means

    They conducted experiments with four brands of teabags. The sachets were cleaned of tea, washed thoroughly, placed for five minutes in water heated to 95 degrees – and then studied the composition of the water. Scientists have found from 1 to 150 micrometers of particles and from 100 to 1000 nanometers of particles in water. The plastic particles appeared in the bags only during brewing.

    Here it is important to note a few nuances – for the study used nylon bags, not filter paper. Following the publication of the study, some experts questioned the results. In particular, the president of the Tea Association of Canada, Shabnam Weber, wrote an open letter to scientists, calling the experiment incorrect. Other tea experts followed her. They named several reasons why the study results cannot be trusted (as tea bags were cut, or not all types of bags were presented).

    Therefore, the well-known experiment cannot be considered 100% accurate.

    However, the questions about tea bags remain. They decompose slowly, and they cannot be sent for recycling. Think about how many “clothes” 20 cups of tea have:

    “Paper” bag, thread, cardboard label, iron bracket, cardboard box, plastic film.

    One way or another, unpackaged tea for the environment will be a much better choice.

    What to do if the bag is already in the cup

    Don’t panic! First, each sachet will have another use, and overuse of products is one of the keys to ecological life. So before you throw away the teabag, you can also use it as:

    1) Eye patches.

    Place the tea bags in the refrigerator, then place on your closed eyes for a few minutes to get rid of dark circles. The caffeine contained in tea affects the blood vessels.

    2) Help with sunburn.

    We all try to avoid sunburn, but sometimes they do happen entirely unexpectedly. Teabags from the refrigerator can help in this situation.

    3) Treatment of insect bites.

    Teabags can also have a calming effect on mosquito bites and other insects. To do this, place a damp chilled tea bag on the affected area. Tea will help reduce inflammation and relieve irritation.

    4) Means for furniture restoration.

    Weak tea (ie, re-brewed from a bag) can be used to restore the shine of polished furniture. Apply the infusion on wooden surfaces with a soft cloth. Let it absorb well into cracks and scratches, and your furniture will shine like new.

    5) Air freshener.

    Tea leaves absorb odors, leaving no other noticeable aromas. Place a dry used tea bag in a drawer, cupboard or refrigerator to neutralize odors. This tool is also suitable for too “fragrant” shoes.

    6) Fat solvent.

    Place tea bags on the bottom of the dish, fill with hot water, and leave overnight. Tea substances help to dissolve fats and food residues. In the morning, you can easily clean your pan or saucepan without chemicals.

    After use, the bags will still have to be thrown in the trash. That’s why eclogues still call for giving up tea bags, but sometimes there is a need to “quickly” make a drink and run, then there is a simple and convenient alternative:

    Metal or ceramic strainer.

    Press kettle or kettle with strainer.

    Silicone teapot (if you choose one, then pay attention to its quality and FDA and CE marking – compliance with European standards)

    It is also advised to buy tea after all, not in packages, but by weight. Brand companies receive tea leaves at large wholesale – so they do not have the physical ability to monitor the quality of each batch.

    Choose the way you like, make tea, monitor your impact on the environment, and be healthy.

    Oksana Yakubinska, a tea expert, said about the actual crushed tea in such bags:

    “Different technologies make leaf tea and packaged tea. Therefore, we cannot say that they use only dust. Perhaps unscrupulous producers can make such a drink, but the price is appropriate. Usually, tea bags use a sheet of category D, which is the smallest size, but the quality is not affected. In general, good tea cannot be cheap, and if we talk about packaging, the quality tea in the package is not inferior in price to the sheet. There, the packaging does not contain anything artificial and tea of ​​the highest quality.

    Why are traces of tea left in the cup, do you use dyes?

    “First of all, it is important to understand that tea is a natural dye. Therefore, it makes no sense to add something there, although again, there are unscrupulous producers. But their product will be in the lowest price category,” said the expert.


    The EU Member States have drawn up laws to implement the Single-Use Plastics Directive. As part of France’s ‘law on the circular economy and the fight against waste’ adopted in February 2020, most fruit and vegetable packaging will also be banned, as will plastic tea bags, confetti, and plastic toys offered as part of kids menus. You may read more here.

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