Do Tea Bags Contain Plastic?
I love to drink tea. I enjoy the taste, and I always felt good knowing I was getting some beneficial antioxidants in every cup. So imagine my shock when I was shopping at our local farmers market and stumbled across an article questioning the addition of plastic in tea bags.
Do manufacturers actually put plastic in tea bags?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Even more unfortunately, the impact on our health and the environment is just as bad as you might imagine.
The Problems With Plastic in Tea Bags
Plastic in a tea bag creates several problems for our health and the environment.
First, the obvious problem: plastic isn’t biodegradable or compostable. So if you toss your tea bag into your compost pile, you’re unknowingly leading to more plastic pollution since not all of it will break down.
The second concern has to do with our health. When plastic heats up, it leaches chemicals that can cause reproductive issues and possibly even cancer.
While the main problem with plastic leaching chemicals is when it hits its melting point, another temperature that researchers are starting to study is the glass transition temperature.
Glass transition temperature is always lower than the melting point. In the case of PET and nylon — which is the most common type of plastic found in tea bags — the glass transition temperature is lower than the temperature of boiling water. This means the molecules in those plastic tea bags will begin to breakdown in warm water.
One study found that single-use PET plastic water bottles had estrogen-mimicking chemicals in them that have been linked to cancer. If the same PET plastic is in your tea bags, it’s likely leaching toxins directly into the tea you’re about to drink.
Which Tea Bags Contain Plastic?
At this point, you’re probably staring at your own tea bags and wondering if they contain plastic. There are three main types of tea bags: silky, pressed, and string-and-tag.
Silky Tea Bags
Silky tea bags are often in the shape of a pyramid and marketed as a luxury and higher quality tea bag. Although they’re called silky tea bags, they’re not made with silk. They’re made with plastic.
The tea bags are typically made using a fossil-fuel based plastic, such as PET or nylon. Yep, the same PET or nylon we just talked about above.
If you’re using one of these tea bags, you definitely have plastic in your tea bag.
Pressed Tea Bags
Pressed tea bags have crimped or pressed edges along the sides. They’re typically in the shape of a square, rectangle, or circle.
They’re made with two separate layers of paper stuck together. Since any type of glue the manufacturers would try to use to hold the paper together would melt in hot water, they use plastic.
The plastic is woven into the paper, heated until it melts, and stuck together. Also, some companies treat the tea bag paper with a chemical called epichlorohydrin to make it stronger. The EPA says this chemical could cause cancer in humans.
Again, if you’re using a pressed tea bag, you definitely have tea bags with plastic.
String-and-Tag Tea Bags
String-and-tag tea bags are pretty common. These bags fold over on the top and use a staple or stitching instead of melted plastic to stay closed. While you won’t be getting any plastic from the sealer, some brands do use plastic fibers to make their tea bags stronger.
If you use string-and-tag tea bags, you might or might not have plastic in your tea bag. It depends entirely on the brand you use.
How to Avoid Plastic in Tea Bags
By now, you might be thinking you have to stop drinking tea to avoid plastic. Fortunately, you don’t have to do that. There are two great options to enjoy some plastic-free tea.
Loose Leaf Tea
After learning all of this about tea bags, I decided to make the switch to loose leaf tea, and I love it.
I highly recommend this loose leaf tea because it tastes great, is incredibly easy to make, and clean up is a cinch. Many of the varieties are also certified USDA organic and Fair Trade Certified, so you know they’re good for you, the environment, and the farmers who grow the tea.
If you decide to go with loose leaf tea, you’ll need a few extra supplies to make preparing your tea a little easier. First, you’ll need something to hold the tea while it’s steeping. I use two different items.
The first item I use is a mesh tea ball. You simply put the tea in the ball, snap it shut, and let it soak in the hot water. The other item I use is a ceramic mug with an infuser basket. Again, you just put the tea in the basket, pour in the water, and let it soak.
The mesh tea ball is smaller than the infuser basket. So if I’m making a cup that requires more loose leaf tea, I’ll use the basket instead of the ball.
When I’m done making my tea, I simply dump the leaves into my compost bin and rinse everything out. And just like that, I’m finished cleaning up!
Brands That Don’t Use Plastic
If you enjoy using a tea bag, you can find brands that make string-and-tag tea bags that don’t contain plastic. Some of the top brands to consider include:
Clipper- Clipper is a Fair Trade tea company that has switched all of its production over to plastic-free tea bags. The company also offers organic teas and is now starting to work on sustainable packaging initiatives.
Pukka Herbs- Pukka Herbs is another Fair Trade tea company that uses organic ingredients in its tea bags. Additionally, the company doesn’t use glue to seal its tea bags. Instead, the bags are sewn shut with cotton thread. The bags are staple-free and 100% biodegradable.
Removing Plastic From Your Tea
While having plastic in a tea bag is a problem for your health and the environment, it doesn’t mean you have to skip drinking that cup of tea. Instead, choose one of these eco-friendly tea options to enjoy all the great health benefits of tea without the unnecessary additions.
More Eco-Friendly Tips
Are you interested in discovering even more simple tips that can help you live a more eco-friendly life? Then be sure to check out a few of our other popular articles:
- The Best Natural Drain Cleaners
- How to Make Aloe Vera Gel
- The Best Reusable Straws
- Best Zero Waste Products for Beginners