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Those "silky" (but really plastic) tea bags

33 Replies
Yogic Chai said

I would recommend you guys check with each of the tea companies you buy from. Some use biodegradable and compostable materials and some use biodegradable but not compostable. Unfortunately the vast majority uses materials which are neither compostable nor biodegradable :(

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ashmanra said

I have wondered about this, since I read that some of the bags are nylon. And I am told the paper teabags are treated with a chemical to keep them from tearing in the hot water, so loose leaf is the way to go for yet another reason.

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As Yogic Chai says, there are some, made with soilon rather than nylon which are biodegradable. These have a corn starch base. (Been looking in to them recently!)

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Although loose leaf is always going to be a whole load cheaper, more natural and better for the environment. As well as giving you more control over quality and how you like it.

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K S said

I am definitely no expert on this subject. I did try to do some research on the sachets that I have used. Mike Turner mentioned Yogi as using cornstarch based sachets. The article mentioned Numi. Two Leaves is another that uses cornstarch based sachets.

There is reason to be cautious but it seems to me the article painted gloom and doom picture but did not emphasize the alternatives strongly enough.

Here is a link I found this morning that says the cornstarch products completely decompose in 180 days: http://www.eco-go.net/corn-detail.php

If this is information is not true please correct me.

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Surely, KS, the best alternative is no bags at all. That is brewing tea as it was for centuries. Better for (verifiable) tea quality, abilty to brew to your own taste and no questions at all about waste, bio-degradabilty, health.

A quick search disclosed these disadvantages of corn starch packaging:

1.Although PLA is compostable, there are very few facilities where this can actually be done (in the USA only about 113 sites for this exist)
2.Most likely consumers will not compost corn starch plastics properly, and just put them in regular recycling. This could contaminate the recycling stream
3.Composting PLA in large quantities could undermine conventional composting, since the polymer contained in corn-based plastic makes regular compost more acidic.
4.Since there is a lack of adequate infrastructure to compost PLA, most of it will probably still go into landfills.
5.MRFs – Material Recovery Facilities – are responsible for paying for sorting and disposing of PLA
6.Because PLA is derived from corn, there are moral issues with it being used for packaging, since there are people in the world dying of hunger
7.PLA is mostly produced from genetically modified corn

Source: http://www.bionomicfuel.com/corn-starch-plastic-the-advantages-and-disadvantages/

K S said

I agree no bag at all is best. The reality is less than 10% of tea sold in America is loose leaf.

My further research this morning backs up the statements in your link (excellent balanced article by the way). The vast majority of the sachets will not be composted. Further, many people who think they are composting are actually just burying the leaves and bags in the flower bed. As best I can tell there have been no studies to show whether the cornstarch sachets will decompose in a true home compost as they do in the industrial setting.

All I can add to that is I will watch our pit and see what happens. For the record I use very few bags or sachets. 95% of my tea is loose leaf prepared using a French press or a Finum basket.

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For those of you who have tried to compost your tea bags, you should be aware that Bioplastics can take different length of times to totally compost and the time it takes varies depending on many factors. It is also important to make the distinction between degradable, biodegradable and compostable. These terms are often used interchangeably but are not the same.

Compostable Plastic is plastic which is “capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost site as part of an available program, such that the plastic is not visually distinguishable and breaks down to carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass, at a rate consistent with known compostable materials (e.g. cellulose). and leaves no toxic residue.” American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM). In order for a plastic to be called compostable, three criteria need to be met:

1.Biodegrade – break down into carbon dioxide, water, biomass at the same rate as cellulose (paper).
2.Disintegrate – the material is indistinguishable in the compost, that it is not visible and needs to be screened out
3.Eco-toxicity – the biodegradation does not produce any toxic material and the compost can support plant growth.

Biodegradable Plastic is plastic which will degrade from the action of naturally occurring microorganism, such as bacteria, fungi etc. over a period of time. Note, that there is no requirement for leaving “no toxic residue”, and as well as no requirement for the time it needs to take to biodegrade.

Degradable Plastic is plastic which will undergo a significant change in its chemical structure under specific environmental conditions resulting in a loss of some properties. Please note that there is no requirement that the plastic has to be degrade from the action of “naturally occurring microorganism” or any of the other criteria required for compostable plastics.

A plastic therefore may be degradable but not biodegradable or it may be biodegradable but not compostable (that is, it breaks down too slowly to be called compostable or leaves toxic residue).

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K S said

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR STANDARD PLASTICS TO FULLY DISINTEGRATE?
Answer: Decades up to 450 years, Even for ‘environmentally friendly’ PE it takes 50 years.
Plastic coated paper milk cartons 5 years
Plastic bags 20 years
Plastic cups 250 years
Plastic 6-pack holder rings 450 years
Glass bottles 1 million years
Plastic bottles forever

Source: http://www.eco-go.net/faq.php

Same page, they further claim:
HOW LONG DOES ECO GO BIODEGRADABLE PACKAGING TAKE TO FULLY BREAK DOWN?
Answer: The cassava starch packaging takes around 7 days in water to fully break down and up to 60 days in landfill. The cornstarch packaging takes up to 72 days to break down in landfill.

Chizakura said

Now there’s an eye opener. Wow. That’s frightening really.

If only people hadn’t discovered plastic, we wouldn’t be up to our eyeballs in it.

Uniquity said

I have a plant pot that claims to be eco-friendly and will eventually return to organic material. I have been using it inside for approximately 2 years with wet soil and plant life with no visible degradation so far. It may be better than traditional plastics but it still isn’t great. :( I also feel bad when I buy yogurt as I have yet to find yogurt to purchase in non-plastic containers. There is a recycling program in my municipality for all plastics, but that chain isn’t necessarily as good for the planet as it could be either. Tricky.

If you have a half hour or so to spare on the weekend, making your own yogurt is pretty simple.
http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2013/01/homemade-yogurt

I also used to have kefir grains, but I accidentally poured the grains into the blender and drank them up in a smoothie. Alas. It was even easier than homemade yogurt.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kefir

ashmanra said

I make yogurt once a week. Regular spaghetti pot, skim milk, and I put it in those Weck clip top glass jars they sell at Williams Sonoma. I was spending $5 a week on yogurt for our fruit smoothies and after just three of those containers ended up on the counter I decided it was time to start making my own. It also only costs me about $1.50 a week, plus I get two cups of whey to use in bread making, soups, and for the chickens, who love it.

I haven’t made kefir. Maybe I should try that next!

Uniquity said

I already make my own bread and soup, I guess yogurt really is the next logical step. Of course, the people I know think I’m crazy but man do I eat well. :) Thanks guys!

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I always wondered about that…ack

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teajoteas said

“Biodegradable” is one of the most misused and misunderstood terms that are thrown around by many marketers and companies today. It’s just another example of how a good intention has become just another marketing ploy.

The reality is that just about everything will biodegrade. The problem is that some materials take over 400 years to do so, like those plastic 6-pack rings. The key is not just the material itself, but the ecosystem around the material. I found a great article that does a great job of explaining this misused term and what to look for as a consumer:

http://www.greengood.com/terms_to_know/biodegradable_and_compostable_definitions.htm

K S said

Thanks teajoteas. Loved it. I just added this link to a post I put up this morning on my blog

http://theeverdayteablog.blogspot.com/2013/04/something-to-think-about.html

If any one sees an error I made, please point it out.

teajoteas said

Great blog post, thanks for sharing!

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