Ditch the tea bag for fully blended compost

Every time I see that advert asking “Coffee in a bag? Why didn’t we think of this before?” I scream back at the television: “Because it can’t be good for the environment!”

The company responsible says on its website that it is using PLA (Polylactic acid) made from natural materials instead of plastics, which is becoming popular among brands and which scientists say biodegrades but still slowly.

Manufacturers have made huge strides in recent years – possibly decades – to make their packaging more environmentally friendly.

Only a few years ago, a big positive fuss was made (possibly by the company’s marketing department) about one company producing their Easter eggs entirely in recyclable material.

Out went any form of plastic, instead the box’s design allowed the egg to stand up. The egg was, as before, wrapped in foil. Many companies now say they are using “less packaging” but that doesn’t always tally with more recyclable packaging. 

Sometimes the recyclable bit has been ditched as unnecessary – for example the circular top of cream – while the part you draw back to open the produce can be made of a combination material to make it aesthetically smooth, but it can’t be recycled. Reduced packaging is achieved, but the remaining packaging is no less sustainable.

The question that remains is why do we need the single-use bag at all? What’s wrong with a spoon to measure out the instant version of coffee and waiting a few minutes for it to brew in a cafetiere?

Society is in such a rush…

Well, right now, when we’re largely working from home, we might wish to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ by taking those extra moments not spending travelling to make a true brew – without the extra packaging via a bag. 

As any gardener who has put tea bags in their compost bin will tell you, plenty of brands’ bags do not dissolve or decompose, even over winter. That is because, from many brands, they are made of plastic, in part or whole. And if not plastic, non-biodegradable material.  

Gardeners do not want items such as leaves, branches, ferns or holly in their compost – hardier greenery – because they take an age to degrade, let alone something with an unknown degradation period.

Plastic, as an example, simply doesn’t degrade. It might split into smithereens – micro plastics – over time, but never goes away totally. The tea leaves and coffee grounds are on the list of many items that it is perfectly reasonable to compost. Gardeners would prefer that every square inch of their soil was useful and that plastic, or even slow to degrade, material wasn’t in it. 

So they have three options: 

  • Rip open the tea bag after use, put the contents in one caddie for the garden and the plastic bit in the bin
  • Put the whole thing – allegedly compostable – in the household food waste recycling and let it be collected by the council
  • Buy loose leaf tea and wait a bit longer for our brew

With options one and two still not being totally environmentally responsible, we are left with option three – and to seek out tea produced in fully recyclable material. The company responsible for this new single-use “coffee bag” is, at least, in the process of ditching the non-recyclable plastic wrapping around its tea bag packaging.