Tea is healthy! I think everyone will agree to that. But what about the teabags we use? Can you just compost them? Are they 100% biodegradable, or not? And what happens if you pour boiling water over them? Does it affect the quality of your tea?
OK, let’s start again: tea is healthy! But is it really? I did some laymen’s research. Stay with me …
The materials teabags are made of
Teabags are made of a variety of materials.
The most common teabags contain 20 to 30% polypropylene. Therefore, they are not 100% biodegradable. They leave plastic residue when composted. Also, each bag has 1 staple, one piece of string and 1 paper label.
Some teabags are made of nylon or polyethyleneterephtalate (it’s just PET). Nylon and PET are considered two of the safest plastics because they have extremely high melting points (there are several nylons, all with a melting point higher than 200°, the melting point of PET is 260° C). This means it’s less likely that plastics will leach out of the bag and into your tea. However, according to scientists, by pouring boiling water over them, small particles of plastic will still end up in your tea. Indeed, the glass-transition temperature (which is the transition in amorphous materials from a hard and relatively brittle "glassy" state into a viscous or rubbery state as the temperature is increased) of nylon and PET is below 100°C. This means that, even though the nylon and PET won’t melt, your cup of tea is not just a cup of tea…
Some teabags are made of paper. Usually these have been treated with epichlorohydrine, according to the NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) this is a carcinogenic substance often used as a pesticide. This is even worse. There you go, paper is not always better! Oh, and by the way, coffee filters are also treated with epichlorohydrine!
So, not only is the teabag itself waste which we can avoid. Pouring boiling water over a teabag, no matter which material it is made of, will release unwanted substances in your tea, which you will ingest.
Loose tea versus tea bags, what’s the difference in price?
One of the arguments for buying tea in teabags is the price. It is said that tea in teabags is cheaper because the quality of loose tea is much better. Indeed, a teabag can hold much smaller tea leaf ‘dust’ than a tea strainer would hold. But is it actually cheaper?
I wanted to find out on the basis of three of my favourite teas. I have more details than those below. If you’re interested, drop me a line and I will provide them. But for the sake of comparison of weight and cost, I have selected only these:
1. Yogitea Himalaya chai
I bought one packet of loose tea and one packet with teabags. They both come in a cardboard box. The loose tea is packed in cellophane. The teabags are not but every 2 grams of tea is packed in a teabag and a separate paper wrapper.
The price was 3.29 EUR. It has 17 bags of 2g, 34g of tea.
Per 100g of tea, there is 100g of waste (I KID YOU NOT).
Per 100 g of tea, the cost is 9.68 EUR
The price was 3.99 EUR. It has 90 grams of tea.
Per 100g of tea, there is 23,33g of waste.
Per 100 g of tea, the cost is 4.43 EUR
So teabags are more than twice the price and produce more than four times more waste than loose tea.
I bought a box of mint teabags. The teabags hold 100% mint. Good, that’s the only mint tea worthy of the name “mint tea”. Tea aficionados will claim it is a mint infusion, not tea.
Mint tea bags
The price was 0.99 EUR. It has 25 bags of 2.25 grams of mint.
Per 100g of tea, that is 42.22g of waste.
Per 100 g of tea, the cost is 1.67 EUR
Mint tea loose
The price was 0.35 EUR. A bundle of mint weighs 95 g
Per 100g of tea, there is 0 waste.
Per 100 g of tea, the cost is 0.37 EUR.
So teabags are almost five times the price and loose tea comes without any waste.
3. Earl grey
Earl grey loose:
The price was 5.95 EUR. It has 500 grams of earl grey tea.
Per 100g of tea, there is 14g of waste.
Per 100g of tea, the cost is 1.19 EUR
The price was 4.60 EUR. It has 200g of earl grey.
Per 100g of tea, that is 40g of waste.
Per 100g of tea, the cost is 2.3 EUR
So teabags are almost twice the price and produce three times more waste.
Environmental impact: loose tea comes with a lot less waste. On top of that, your tea will not contain plastics or pesticides.
Financial impact: loose tea is much cheaper than teabags. The tea itself may be more expensive, but waste comes at a price as well.
Space: I win because I don’t have to store all the packaging, I can store more tea instead.
Times and effort: there is no impact whatsoever because most shops sell both teas on the same shelf. If anything I even win a little because I have to go to the shop less often, since I can store more tea in the same space.
And for all those reasons, I will never use tea bags again, ever!