Do you take sugar? Milk? Plastic?

Come and join me for a cuppa! Do you take Sugar? Milk? How about plastic?

Photo by Helen Wong Chong

I was so surprised when I learnt that most tea bags have plastic in them, but when I thought about it, it made sense, I guess something has to stop them from falling apart!  From looking at the labeling and packaging, it is tricky to tell exactly what tea bags are made of, so I contacted NZ's ten top selling tea brands to ask them for more info, and ultimately, to find out whether they have plastic in them. You can read their responses here (some of the responses are fairly lengthy so feel free to skip to skip through to my one line summary at the end of each).


'All Chanui teabags are made of plant cellulose fibres and are plastic free.'



'The tea bags used in our Organic Premium Tea range are made from plant matter (such as corn, cassava, sugar cane or beets) and are biodegradable. The tea bags in the rest of our range are made from cellulose fibres plus thermoplastic fibres – the plastic content of the tea bag allows us to heat seal the tea bag and contain the contents. I’m happy to share and let you know that we are currently looking into alternative tea bag paper options'.


Pams (standard)

'The tea bag paper is a 100% virgin "food grade" paper derived from natural sources like plant fibres and wood pulp. They are bleached with approved and food safe processes and the finished product is tested and safe for consumption as per all food safety standards worldwide. Pams 100 teabags contain polypropylene fibre(plastic) but we are trying to get rid of in the packaging which will be free of polypropylene. Epichlorohydrin is present in very small residue levels but it is tested and certified to be within approved levels which are safe for consumption as directed by international food safety standards. The product is currently not fully compostable at home due to the Polypropylene component of the paper. 


Pams Finest Pyramid Tea Bags

What material is the tea bag made out of? 'Food Grade and Food Safe Nylon Mesh' Are they bleached? 'No' Does it contain Polypropylene fibre? 'No' Does it contain Epichlorohydrin? 'No' Are they compostable at home? 'No'



'The tea bags are made from Celluse, a plant based material, as well as a thermaplastic material to heat seal and contain the tea leaves.

The outer wrap is a plastic blend - not biodegradable or compostable.'



'...Since inception Dilmah has been using natural non heat seal filter paper to produce crimped seal tea bags, which account for a significant proportion of its total production. Some teabags which require heat sealing have a nominal amount of thermoplastic fibres to form and seal the bag. The majority of the composition of these heat sealable papers is natural fully biodegradable fibres such as abaca, woodpulp and other natural cellulose fibres with a minimum amount of synthetic fibres added to provide the necessary paper characteristics.   

In 2007 Dilmah began a process of testing and adopting biodegradable material. The approx. 2% residue of non-biodegradable filter material is expected to be halved in 2018 and eventually eliminated altogether by 2020...

All primary material that comes into direct contact with tea complies with worldwide food safety legislation and best practice guidelines for food contact packaging and specifically for hot beverage filtration...

Our standard teabag ranges i.e. Dilmah Premium, Ceylon Green Tea and Infusions... use cellulose fibers which are free of plastic coating such as epichlorohydrin and do not using paper bleaching. Our teabags that do not use a staple to seal the bag use a very thin film of polypropylene fibres to give the heat seal that joins the bag together. Under normal backyard composting conditions the cellulose fibres will break down, as will the tea, leaving only the very small amount of polypropylene fibres. It does take a reasonable amount of time to break down and should be a well established compost heap ideally with a good worm population. These polypropylene fibres are a foodsafe material with no proven health concerns but understandably the mention of plastics raises concerns and some choose to avoid doubt and use loose leaf tea or organic teabags.

Our teabags are NOT made with food-grade nylon or polyethylene terephthalate (PET), commonly used in the old style of pyramid style nylon bags. Our pyramid style Exceptional range use a method derived from maize starch... The teabags are technically compostable however this relates more to commercial composting and not backyard composting so we do not advertise these as biodegradable. Our Organic range teabags are free of plastics.'


Red Seal

'Red Seal Teabags are made from natural fibres, no bleach, corn resin only and are compostable except the little paper tag at the top of the 100% cotton jiggler.



'Our Quality Black and Intense (traditional tea bags) are made from Manilla hemp and cellulose fibres. They are compostable but not recyclable. And our Green, Decaf, Chai and Herbal (traditional tea bags) are made from Manilla hemp, cellulose and thermoplastic fibres. They are not compostable or recyclable.'



'Twinings tea bag paper is produced from the abacá plant which belongs to the banana family, Musaceae. It is chosen due to its long, strong fibres. The ‘String and tag’ tea bags used are sealed by crimping the paper tightly down the centre and folding and using a cotton stitch at the top. These do not have any polyethylene component and do not contain plastic.

Twinings tea bags are fully biodegradable.  We would not recommend that tea bags are used directly on the soil as a ‘fertilizer’ or soil conditioner, as they are likely to take a longer time to breakdown. We would recommend that they are composted in a compost bin, or wormery first to optimize the availability of any nutrients for the plants.

Regarding composition of pyramid infusers:

The material used in Twinings pyramid infusers (tetra mesh) is fully biodegradable and compostable. The material is derived from maize starch. The starch is treated by enzyme to create the compound poly-lactic acid which has a 'plastic" character which can be spun into filaments.

However, we are happy to say that these teabags do not contain plastic. We would not recommend that these pyramid tetra mesh infusers are used directly on the soil as a 'fertilizer' or soil conditioner, as they are likely to take a longer time to breakdown. We would recommend that they are composted in a compost bin, or wormery first to optimise the availability of any nutrients for the plants.'



'We make our teabags from paper that has been manufactured and processed using a gentle modern method which uses oxygen to improve the colour of the teabag and prevent any taint to the natural fibres, which can affect the taste of the tea. We don’t use a chlorine-based bleach to whiten our tea bags. This process has been proved to be perfectly safe for the consumer and the environment.

Our new fully biodegradable pyramid bags are made using a new plant-based material which is derived from corn starch. Once you’ve finished your cup of PG tips you can put your teabag in your food-waste bin at home or pop it in the compost (although it might take slightly longer to compost due to the climate). Our new plant-based material is different to most traditional plastics like polypropylene, in that it is derived from corn starch, which is a renewable source.

If you have a food waste collection scheme in your area, you can put your used tea bags in there. While the new PG tips tea bags are fully biodegradable and will eventually break down in your home compost, it can take a long time to break down, so you may want to sieve out the leftover part of the bag and discard it or dig in with the compost.” As part of our commitment to sustainability, we are always looking for new ways to reduce plastic across our products. To achieve this, we are currently running a trial to remove the plastic covering across some of our PG tips boxes.'


Bell (Original Tea Bags):

'We are happy to share the material we use to make our teabags is primarily a mixture of natural cellulose fibres, with the main source from the Abaca plant which is a close relative of the banana family. This is used because of it's long fibres which allow to the tea to infuse well. There is a very small amount of food-grade polypropylene fibre used at the edges of the tea bag which allows the bag to be heat sealed.

As our teabags are made from mostly natural sources, our teabags are also suitable for composting. Opening the bags will speed up the process and allows for any residual fibres to disperse through the soil.'


Another thing to consider with any tea bags is the packaging they come in, are they just in a box, or is there a foil packet inside?

Or just skip the tea bags altogether and use a tea diffuser/strainer - you can often find them second hand (shops or online), or try homeware or specialy tea stores.

If it's coffee that you're after, then there are lots of eco-friendly options out there too.  If you use coffee pods then you can get reusable ones, or check out @terracycle - they offer lots of recycling schemes for different brands of coffee pods including Maccona, L'Or, Nesscafe and Nespresso.

And of course, if your are going to head out for a coffee, be sure to either have it 'in', or take our own cups.  @UYOC is a fantastic cafe guide, listing cafes who are committed to minimizing their environmental impact by welcoming us to use our own cups when we take out.

But wait, there's more!  By taking your own bag/jar to a bulk food store, you can stock up on loose leaf tea and package-free coffee completely zero-waste!

Or why not really up the eco-warrior stakes and brew yourself a mint, ginger, jasmine or chamomile tea straight from your herb garden?

Hopefully all this information will mean that next time you sit down for a cuppa, you'll be able to truly relax, knowing that it's made just the way you like it: Plastic-free!

Cover pic by kat4nka

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