Composting teabagsShould you put teabags on your compost heap?

02 July 2010

Several members have contacted Which? Gardening magazine to say that they've noticed that the teabags they put on their compost heaps are not breaking down properly, leaving a fine mesh behind. So Which? Gardening decided to investigate. They contacted many of the top tea companies including Typhoo, Tetley, PG Tips, Clipper and Twinings to find out what their teabags were made of. 

Teapot and tea bag

What are teabags made of?

Which? Gardening found that the vast majority of teabags contain a plastic called polypropylene. It's not biodegradable - hence the fine mesh that members have been finding. The plastic is included in order to help heat-seal the teabags during their manufacture. 

PG Tips told us: 'Like most of the teabags in the UK, our teabags are made with about 80% paper fibre, which is fully compostable along with the tea leaves contained in the bag. The remaining packaging contains a small amount of plastic which is not fully biodegradable.' Teadirect told us: 'Our teabags are 70% compostable.' These responses were echoed by the other companies. Whitney Kakos, sustainability manager at Teadirect, confirmed: 'Use of polypropylene is an industry-wide practice.' 

So should teabags be composted?

Most of the manufacturers we contacted maintained that their teabags can be composted, despite their plastic content. But is this really advisable? Which? Gardening asked the experts at recycling organisation WRAP and Garden Organic for their advice. Lynne Gunn, WRAP's home composting expert, said: 'Our advice remains that teabags are suitable for composting. If the bags are still visible when you want to use the compost, they can be sieved out or picked off the surface of the soil. You can also speed up the composting process by ripping open the bags.' Harriet Kopinska, home composting project co-ordinator at Garden Organic, said: 'We would still tell people to put teabags in their compost, as composting is the better environmental option. But where possible tear the bags first. Even better, use loose leaf tea.'

Are any teabags plastic free?

Which? Gardening has found one brand of teabag that is polypropylene free: Jacksons of Piccadilly. Also, bags that are stitched, with a tag, are biodegradable (some have a staple - you'll need to remove this before composting). 

Are tea companies doing anything about this?

It would appear that the full recyclability of teabags is not high on many companies' agendas - even most Fairtrade or organic teabags (with the exception of Jacksons of Piccadilly) contain polypropylene. Teadirect's Whitney Kakos said: 'Most consumers don't notice [the polypropylene] and probably don't care.'

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